Writing a conference abstract #TBT

TL group 1

ASTEN 2017, Canberra

Just when you thought you couldn’t find anything older, up pops this gem from the past – tips about how to write a conference abstract. This was published as a resource when we used to run UNCOVER – the conference for graduate and post-graduate students to give them a platform to present their work in a supportive space. Many fond memories there.

So for today’s #throwbackthursday post thought I’d publish this warts and all as, although rather quaint, is still pretty relevant.


When answering a call for papers a number of factors need to be kept in mind to ensure that your abstract has a good chance of being accepted.

Ensure that your ideas are well thought out and follow a logical, coherent flow:

  • state the issue to be discussed
  • give a brief background to the issue
  • brief description of what you are doing about it
  • implications/outcomes: why is what you’ve done important?

Ensure that the abstract relates to the conference theme:

  • in a ‘real’ and not contrived way: if it doesn’t fit then don’t submit
  • an interesting and catchy title helps:
    • but make sure it’s not too ‘clever’ or obscure.

Ensure that practical aspects of the abstract comply with requirements:

  • it meets or is under the specified word length
  • is typed in the specified font type, size
  • spacing and setting out are correct
  • if no guidelines are given then a standard format is usually:
    • 200-250 words
    • Times 12pt font
    • 5 line spacing and centred on the page.

Limit amount of references cited in abstract:

  • use only if essential to support your argument
  • detailed references can be covered in the resulting presentation/paper.

Look at past abstracts/conference papers to pick up the tone and style of that particular organisation’s conferences.

Run your abstract past someone familiar with both the topic you wish to present and the conference style: such as a university lecturer, work colleague, member of professional society, someone who has presented before at the conference.

Submit on or before the due date and in the required way:

  • electronically, via e-mail, is usually preferred
  • ensure computer compatibility of documents (especially in converting Macintosh to IBM formats
  • saving in ‘Rich Text Format’ in Word is better (*.rtf)
  • not all are able to access documents in html formats easily – stick to established word processing programs such as Word.

Ensure you include your name, title, organisation and contact details, including phone, fax, street address and e-mail.

Finally, remember that your abstract serves two purposes:

  • to interest and intrigue the committee so they will select it
  • to introduce/outline your topic for the conference handbook – so it needs to standalone as a record of your presentation.

Lynda Kelly, Head, Australian Museum Audience Research Centre, 1 February, 2002


There you have it – except, no fax number required! But, for more up-to-date tips and ideas check these out:

And, keep an eye out for the MGA2019 Conference call for papers, coming soon!

One thought on “Writing a conference abstract #TBT

  1. lyndakelly61 says:

    Here’s my notes from the Webinar today (presented by MGA with me and Jade Koeke as presenters)

    Writing an Abstract:
    Need to address the theme
    Don’t be too “academic” or clever or too much jargon
    Title is important as Jade said
    Narrow case studies as an example in your proposal are good – one idea (Jade said)
    Co-presented proposals are good – but leave plenty of time to get it together
    Spell check is important!
    Remember those assessing are probably time-poor and may only have time to give a glance
    Sometimes it’s hit and miss – eg MuseumNext gets hundreds of proposals
    If you haven’t presented before may be against you (unfortunately)

    As Jade said make you really are ready to present and have time to prepare it
    Don’t take risks when you do your first few presentations, but after that feel free to try something new (and don’t do it hungover!)
    Learn from rejection – most probably won’t be accepted, maybe use it for a blog post or something?
    Think about submitting to smaller groups (eg MEET, local chapter meetings/conferences, student conferences)
    Feel free to ask your industry idols if you can practice on them as jade said – they’ll be chuffed!
    Six word stories: http://www.sixwordstories.net/ – a neat idea to think about your title.

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