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Writing for Publication: Conference Proposals & Presentations

Overview

Presenting at conferences is an efficient and exciting forum in which you can share your research and findings.  However, presenting your work to others at a conference requires determining what type of presentation would best suit your material as well as choosing an appropriate conference. Once you have made those decisions, you will be ready to write your conference proposal.

Types of Presentations

The types of professional conferences vary, from large international gatherings to small, regional meetings. The content can also be very research driven or be focused more specifically on the needs of practitioners. Hence, different conferences tend to have different formats, but the following are some of the most common:

Poster sessions are most frequently found in the sciences, but they are often offered as an option at conferences in other disciplines as well. A poster session is a visual representation of your work. In this format, you can highlight areas of your research and display them both textually and visually. At most conferences, poster sessions take place in a large room. Typically, researchers stand next to their display and answer informal questions about their research. See the American Public Health Association's Poster Session Guidelines for an example of the requirements for posters, keeping in mind that each professional organization and conference will have its own guidelines.

Panel discussions or presentations are formal conversations organized around a specific subject. At most conferences, several speakers take turns speaking for a predetermined amount of time about their research and findings on a given subject. Panel discussions are almost always followed by a question and answer session from the audience. At most conferences, choosing to present at a panel discussion is often more competitive than being selected for a poster session.

A paper with respondent session involves a presenter orally sharing his or her data and conclusions for an allotted period of time. Following that presentation, another researcher, often one with differing views on the same subject, gives a brief response to the paper. The initial presenter then responds to the respondent's response.

In a conference presentation, sometimes presenters just give a report of their research, especially if it has some implications to practice.

Writing the Proposal

Like an abstract, a successful conference proposal will clearly and succinctly introduce, summarize, and make conclusions about your topic and findings. Though every conference is, of course, different, objectives and conclusions are found in all conference proposals. However, be sure to follow a conference's submission guidelines, which will be listed on the conference website. Every conference has a committee that evaluates the relevance and merit of each proposal. The following are some important factors to take into consideration when crafting yours:

Length: Many conference proposals are no more than 400 words. Thus, brevity and clarity are extremely important.

Relevance: Choosing an appropriate conference is the first step toward acceptance of your work. The conference committee will want to know how your work relates to the topic of the conference and to your field as a whole. Be sure that your proposal discusses the uniqueness of your findings, along with their significance. Do not just summarize your research, but rather, place your research in a larger context. What are the implications of your findings? How might another researcher use your data?

Quotations: Avoid including in too many quotations in your conference proposal. If you do choose to include quotations, it is generally recommended that you state the author's name, though you do not need to include a full citation (Purdue Online Writing Lab, 2012).

Focus: Most experts recommend that a conference proposal have a thesis statement early on in the proposal. Do not keep the reader guessing about your conclusions. Rather, begin with your concise and arguable thesis and then discuss your main points. Remember, there is no need to prove your thesis in this shortened format, only to articulate your thesis and the central arguments you will use to back up your claims should you be invited to present your work.

Tone: Make sure to keep your audience in mind and to structure your proposal accordingly. Avoid overly specialized jargon that would only be familiar to participants in a subfield. Make sure your prose is clear, logical, and straightforward. Though your proposal should maintain an academic tone, your enthusiasm for your project should shine through, though not at the cost of formality.