Throwback Thursday: Writing a Conference Abstract (Cheat Sheet)

This post first appeared on Thesislink in May 2018, and has been updated.

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 contribution (i.e. why you’re giving this talk / paper / 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:

If you’d like to learn more about writing an abstract (and have a go) you can also come along to our Writing an Abstract for a Conference or Symposium workshop on Friday 26 March at 10am. 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 elab.

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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