The PhD voice

Tips for writing a conference abstract

Hey hey! I’m finally on a two-week vacation (check out my photos of Norway in my Instagram) and after coming back I know I have a ton of work to do but I really want to rest now. Before I went on holidays I was rushing to complete work towards an abstract for a conference which was due by the end of August. Conferences are a great way to showcase academic work and to get feedback and sometimes even get our work published in a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal. Going to a conference often comes with the perk of being able to travel somewhere to present the work! I have already participated and presented my work in over 10 conferences. While most of them were in Portugal and often in the cities I worked in, I also had the chance to present my work in Spain, France, Switzerland and Brazil. All the logistics implying going to a conference and funding the stay are a whole different story, but here I want to talk about my own learned and tried recipes to submit an abstract. Feel free to leave yours too!

Check the template carefully

Conference abstracts come in a lot of different templates. I already had to submit only words under a given limit or words or characters, one page and also even a two-page mini article with the same sections as a common longer article. What I generally do is to download two copies of the template, one to leave raw and other to write over. Be careful with the margins, line spacing, fonts and style. Always respect this because sometimes, once the articles are reviewed, they go to the abstract books with minimal to no formatting and abstracts might even get refused for not complying with the template. For instance, in the conference I submitted to now, I was getting a message because my left margin had been slightly cut off after converting to PDF. I used a different converter and solved it. Respecting all the formatting already gives you a good idea of how much you can include.

Start by filling mandatory sections

By mandatory sections I mean: authors and their affiliations, keywords and acknowledgements. These sections often take quite some room in the template and since you cannot cut them, it’s a good idea to start and then see how you can reduce a bit in the other areas. For the title I think you can start with a provisional one, but from my experience this often changes after consultation with supervisors to make the titles more concise and short. Anyway expect in the beginning to probably occupy two lines of text with the title.

Use work that was already completed

In the beginning of my career, when I submitted to conferences with word or character limit, it was easy to leave some parts of results and discussion open, like “the implications of testing (…) will be presented”. However, when I moved fields and the abstracts started to look like mini articles, I could not get away with this. Even if you are only using words, I think writing only work with results finished and analyzed gives your work more credibility and might make it easier to be accepted if the conference is very competitive for presentation slots.

Write short sentences

This is something I am still learning over the years! We try stylistically to say a lot of things, but for an abstract the point is to be really clear about the message and avoid repetition of useless words. So, writing short sentences for me helps to make the text more understandable.

Include figures and tables whenever your template allows

Also this comes in order to give your work more credibility. But I also think a bad figure or a bad table that do not explain anything are a waste of space. Make sure to make good quality figures, for some softwares to do this you can check this previous post. Another really important thing is to save the pictures in scale and with big enough legends that are not lost when you might have to scale down the picture.

Proofread, pass it on, and simplify

The other authors might also have some writing tips, especially if you’re not a native English speaker. Make sure all the typos are gone, and try to cut off all unnecessary clutter and repetitions again. Also, if you’re above a word or character limit, make sure all the new shorter sentences still make sense as a whole.

These are my tips and what I use. I will edit the post later to include some third party resources, I didn’t want to read any resources before to not be biased. If you’re in the process of preparing a submission, good luck!

Did you like my tips? Share in the comments below what are your tips to writing a killer abstract that lands you a good presentation slot!

Cátia

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