Writing a Conference Abstract (Cheat Sheet)

If you’ve ever tried to write a conference abstract, you’ll know how intimidating the process can be. After all, the abstract is essentially your ‘audition’ to get into the conference; and, if it’s accepted, it will be your ‘advertisement’ in the conference programme. It has to achieve a lot, and in only around 200-300 words. The stakes are high.

A little bit of emotional upheaval is to be expected. In my experience, it goes something like this:

 

Even though it’s short, a conference abstract has to contain so much that fitting everything within the word limit is like trying to cram four days’ worth of conference outfits into your carry-on luggage.

However, you can make the process a little easier on yourself (at least for your first few abstracts) by following a loose ‘formula’. Of course, every conference is different – and please do read the submission guidelines for the conference that you’re targeting. But in general, abstract reviewers look for:

  • contextual information about the state of existing knowledge in your niche area
  • the purpose of your presentation (the actual talk or poster)
  • a description of your research project & methods
  • an indication of your findings (or hypotheses, if you don’t have findings yet)
  • the significance & implications of your research

So if you cover those five things, you are well on track. Here’s what your abstract might look like:

 

The AUT Postgraduate Symposium coming up on Friday 17 August, and it’s a great opportunity to practise writing an abstract for a presentation. Abstracts for the symposium are due on Friday 22 June, and every single abstract will be reviewed by a qualified member of the Graduate Research School. You will get personalised feedback on your abstract, and you will also get a chance to refine and resubmit after the feedback round. It’s a great chance to hone your skills. Contact grs@aut.ac.nz for an abstract form.

You can also come along to our Writing an Abstract for a Conference or Symposium workshop on Friday 1st June. In the workshop, we will cover lots of abstract-writing tips, and we will collaborate to produce a first draft of an abstract within 30 minutes. You can register for the workshop via CareerHub.

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink. She has a research background in science and narrative. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. She has previously researched fictional representations of evolution and quantum mechanics. She has taught such diverse texts as Blade Runner and Bridget Jones’s Diary, and her most obscure skill is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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