A Guide to Writing an Abstract for a Conference Submission
Writing a research paper is labor-intensive and challenging, but having it accepted by an academic journal makes it all worthwhile. Getting your work published enhances your credibility and renders your research more accessible to all the right people, strengthening your impact on your field.
Being published in a scholarly journal can also provide a major boost to your career and create plenty of opportunities to network. Conferences, for example, are great places to share your work with your peers and expand your academic and professional circles. However, not everyone is experienced in public speaking, which can create challenges when preparing any type of oral presentation. Even if you’re a great writer, oral presentations are an altogether different beast, so you need to approach them differently.
Many writers struggle with crafting the abstract for a speaking engagement. The abstract you submit for publication in a journal shouldn’t be the same as the one for a conference, not only because of differences in spoken and written grammar and language, but also because the abstract for an oral presentation needs to instantly capture the audience's attention and then hold it firmly. Engaging a live audience is different from engaging readers, so optimizing your abstract for an oral presentation is essential.
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So, how do you write a great abstract for a conference presentation?
1. Beware the differences between abstracts for written submissions and for oral presentations
The main difference between abstracts for journal submissions and those for oral presentations is that the former serves as a summary or preface while the latter has to pack quite a punch since it’s usually the only element of your paper that you submit when you want to be considered as a conference presenter. The editor of an academic journal can read all of your paper in addition to your abstract and base their decision on the entirety of your research, but that’s not the case with conference organizers.
In other words, if you submit a subpar abstract along with a superb article for publication in a journal, you’ll most likely get the chance to improve the abstract before your work is published, with the editor providing feedback to guide you. On the other hand, conference organizers aren’t usually so lenient and will reject a speaker outright if the abstract doesn’t meet their standards of quality. That said, it’s overall easier to get a spot on a conference roster than it is to be published in a journal, which means you have a decent chance of being accepted as a presenter if you devote the necessary effort to your abstract.
The other major difference is the level of engagement and the type of language used. There’s nothing quite as boring as someone reading their research out loud word for word, not to mention that it entirely negates the point of presenting it in the first place—the audience can derive the same value from simply reading your paper. It’s important to pique their interest and hold their attention, and that requires more than a matter-of-fact reading. You want the organizers to visualize you speaking to the attendees and keeping them engaged, so that energy needs to come through in your abstract—it still needs to be professional, but you don’t want it to sound too dry.
2. Make your abstract stand out
Using innovative approaches, techniques, and technologies will help your work stand out, but your presentation needs to be just as compelling as your research. Mediocre research presented by an engaging and charismatic speaker will enchant an audience more than ground-breaking research introduced by a dull, awkward speaker, and conference organizers know it. So, if you want to be accepted to present at a conference, you need to make sure the promise of an engaging delivery permeates your abstract.
Find a unique approach to your research by focusing on a different angle, a specific methodology, or an unexpected result that can make your pitch stand out from the rest. Zero in on any novel elements in your paper because that’s where your edge is. Remember that your abstract is basically a marketing tool meant to entice the organizers to give you a slot—they want to offer attendees not only entertaining presentations but a variety of viewpoints, so you need to make yours memorable.
3. State the intention of your presentation
Having an innovative and unique approach to the research is key to writing a compelling abstract, but conference organizers seek to balance great research and findings with captivating presentations. Therefore, you also need to give them a clear idea of what they can expect from your full presentation. So, dedicate a sentence or two of your abstract to this, mention any visual aids you intend to use, and offer a quick explanation of the sequence of your talk. Including such details will give the organizers a better idea of the compelling presentation you can give and help them decide whether to invite you to their conference as a speaker.
4. Write it well
This might be an oral assignment, but that doesn’t mean you can get away with bland writing, grammatical errors, or a confusing structure. When appropriate, use clear language that simplifies your concepts, and make sure your words flow smoothly and naturally. Again, conference organizers want interesting, articulate speakers who can keep an audience engaged even when discussing complex subjects, and you have to channel this ease and charisma in your abstract in order to secure a spot.
Like the abstract for your journal submission, the one for your oral presentation should be composed in the present tense since using the future tense can impair the credibility and results of your research. Only use the future tense if you’re referring to further research you will be conducting between the time of submission and the date of the conference. Even then, use strong, assertive language to project confidence and control. Remember that confidence is key, and conference organizers will have a hard time turning down an abstract that exudes it.
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