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Write a Conference Paper

  • Paper with Respondent: In this type of presentation, a speaker gives a thirty-minute paper. A respondent then gives a fifteen-minute response to the paper. The speaker subsequently gives a fifteen-minute reply to the response.
  • Panel Presentation: Panel sessions include 3-4 speakers, each of whom talks for 15-20 minutes. Panels may also have a discussant who comments on the papers/presentations individually and as a group.
  • Roundtable: A roundtable features five or more speakers, each of whom talks for 5-10 minutes.
  • Workshop: These sessions can vary in length from 90 minutes to one full day. Workshop presenters give short statements before involving the audience in some type of activity.
  • Poster/Poster Talk/Poster Presentation/Poster Discussion: All of these involve a visual presentation of ideas. Some presenters choose to display a 3- to 8-page paper that explains their project; others may post their hypothesis and an outline of their findings. The most eye-catching posters exhibit charts, graphs, photographs, or artwork. Posters can be displayed for the length of the conference or for a single day.
    • Poster talks give the audience a chance to question the poster creator at a specified time.
    • Poster presentations feature 4-6 posters on a single theme displayed at a specific time. Each poster creator gives a short talk on his or her project.
    • Poster discussions also include 4-6 posters on a single theme displayed at a specific time. Conference-goers circulate around the room, questioning and collecting handouts from presenters. This type of presentation can also be called an interactive exhibit.

Tips from the University of Notre Dame Writing Center Proposals to Presentations Workshop:

  • Your abstract should provide the paper title. Effective paper titles will be clear and catchy: they should attract a reader’s attention but also effectively communicate what you will discuss. Note: audiences can be irritated if they attend a panel for an eye-catching, but misleading, title.
  • Successful individual conference paper proposal abstracts generally do triple-work: they outline the contours of the field, they position your argument or research in relation to that field, and they gesture towards the larger significance of your contribution. When proposing an individual presentation for a conference, your abstract should do more than simply summarize your research. As with any academic paper, you should clearly articulate your specific argument or research methods and conclusions.
  • Next, you should give a sense of how you support your claims or research. This section can be the most challenging because it is difficult to strike the balance of specificity and generality you’ll need for a 250-350 word abstract. Talk about some of the nuance and detail of your work. It is also a great idea to discuss your research methods in this section.
  • Finally, you should always be sure to gesture towards the larger disciplinary and/or cultural significance of your work. Why does your research matter and why should people want to hear your presentation? What are the practical real world applications of your acceleration research? Some people also find it effective to mention how a proposal speaks to stated conference goals. This often helps to direct your proposal committee readers, suggesting how your paper will fit with the conference themes or with other proposals.

Tips from Spelman College's "How to Write a Conference Paper":

  • Choose an appropriate conference. Make certain that your paper will interest your audience.
  • Rewrite your essay for the oral medium. Your audience will not have the luxury of reading the text of your essay. Include oral cues to assist the audience. Keep your subjects and verbs close to one another in your sentences and keep your sentences brief.
  • Transitions should be clear. It is almost impossible to be too obvious in an oral presentation. Obvious oral cues like, "I have three points. Number one will cover . . .," which sound wooden in writing, are helpful when read aloud.
  • Use appropriate punctuation. Dashes, semi-colons, and parentheses will not be visible to the audience.
  • Identify quoted material properly. If you quote text, pause and indicate the quote by saying "quote . . . . . end quote." Or, more experienced presenters, can change their inflection to indicate that they are quoting material.
  • Avoid lengthy quotes and quoting too much material. This is confusing and unproductive. Your audience wants your ideas, not what you have gleaned from others. Don't simply apply someone else's ideas to a different text. If it is absolutely necessary to include lengthy quotes, provide the audience with a handout of quotes to which you will be referring.
  • Read the text aloud to yourself as you revise. This will help you eliminate wordy sentences and awkward phrases.
  • Be careful of criticism of other scholars. It is appropriate to discuss criticisms, but use a tone of respect and objectivity. The scholars you criticize might be sitting in the audience!
  • Keep the essay focused! You only have time (usually 15-20 minutes) to present one idea.
  • You will not be able to present everything you know about a subject. Just choose one idea, interpretation, or reading. You do not need to provide all the background tracing how you reached this interpretation; present your point and back it up. You do not need to defend the validity of your idea. You also don't need to give a literature review. You want to make a clear, focused, and interesting argument that is backed up with a few interesting points of evidence, not give the entire content of your dissertation. Many conferences are intended for "works in progress" and expect presenters to bring up engaging questions and offer suggestions for future research, not give the final definitive word on a subject.
  • Consider the audience to whom you are speaking. Don't summarize popular ideas--you do not want to insult the intelligence of your audience. On the other hand, don't assume that a critic familiar to you is familiar to everyone else. Who would be most likely to attend this conference?
  • Don't use jargon. Jargon is often imprecise. If you use field-specific terms, make sure that you know what they mean and give a brief definition if it is a term that has multiple uses or interpretations in your field.
  • Find simple ways to discuss complex ideas. Use easily grasped metaphors and analogies.
  • Anticipate questions. Go to panels the day before your session to see what types of questions people ask, and to find out what the tone of the conference is.
  • Anticipate criticism. Bounce your ideas off a friend/colleague whom you know will be critical.

From the Claremont Graduate University Writing Center Conference Paper Guide, Claremont Research University

  • Meet length and time requirements. This is extremely important. If you have 20 minutes, do not, repeat, do not go to your panel with a paper exceeding 10-11 (double spaced; 12 point font) pages in length. Going over your time limit will not make you popular with the other speakers on your panel (or your audience). The general rule is two minutes per double spaced, 12 point font page, exclusive of citations. If your discipline uses footnote references or in-text citations, it is helpful to transfer them to endnotes to make your paper easier to follow as you read. Practicing your presentation should help you stay within your time limits.
  • Follow the conventions of your field and the conference. If presenters are expected to read from a prepared text (often sent to a commentator or chair prior to the conference), stick to the text. Make sure everyone on your panel has a copy of the version you will present. It is acceptable to make changes after you submit the paper, but be sure you let the commentator or chair know about the changes to your paper. Unless you are a very accomplished extemporaneous speaker, it is extremely preferable to read from a prepared text rather than speaking from notes or an outline alone. This prevents you from leaving out important information (your thesis, for example), from wandering around, and from going over your time limit.
  • Bring a bibliography to reference when answering questions. Take notes of questions and suggestions that are important; you won't remember them otherwise. You also look engaged and receptive when you take notes of the audience's questions and suggestions. Don't be afraid to say you don't know the answer to a particular question. The trick is not to sound defensive, but to confidently say that that area is something you really need to research, or that you'd like to take a look at those sources, etc.
  • Show your audience that you are interested in the topic! Use vocal inflection and be engaging. Use your voice for projection and inflection. Don't forget the importance of pauses. Don't be afraid of silence. Silence can be extremely effective and is certainly preferable to filler words such as "uh," "you know," and "like." Remember to relax!!
  • Speak slowly and clearly. Most people have a tendency to speak too fast when speaking in public.
  • Be relaxed, but maintain good posture. Stand up straight and hold your head up straight. Breathe quietly and deeply.
  • Use your hands sparingly. Too much use of the hands and repetitive motions are distractive.
  • Maintain eye contact with both sides of the room. Whether you are reading, speaking from notes, or talking extemporaneously, it is important to look at your audience. If it is difficult for you to look directly at people, then look at their foreheads or just above their heads.
  • Visual aids: Make a note to yourself in your paper where you are going to use visual aids. Practice with your visual aids before you give your presentation. Make sure your visual aids are clear. The content of visual aids should support your points, not confuse the audience. If your visual aid presents several columns of data, cover the columns you have yet to discuss. Use large type on all visual aids.
  • Practice, practice, practice! Practice your presentation for friends, in front of the mirror, or on videotape.
  • Familiarize yourself with the room and adjust the microphone. Be aware of the environment of the room in which you will speak (size of the room, quality of microphone, podium, height of the lectern, etc.) and make sure to adjust the microphone to the proper position before you begin to speak. Be conscious of where the microphone is, but do not lean into the microphone. Make sure all the equipment works and that you know how to use it (VCR, projector, microphone, etc.).

Presenting Conference Papers in the Humanities

From Claremont Research University

  • For your topic, choose a major theme or question that represents a "thin slice" of the field's current debates. Be on the cutting edge.
  • On the first page, locate the question in a body of knowledge/literature.
  • Make the theoretical significance of your ideas clear.
  • Have a strong, creative research design. Anticipate possible critiques when setting up your research design.
  • Use clear terminology, but use as little specialized terminology as possible.
  • Consider the paper a legal brief that makes a persuasive case and fits it into an ongoing dialogue.
  • Use a "bullet" conclusion. In the final part of the paper, repeat the question posed, then explain how you addressed the question, and why the question is relevant. End with a statement of the larger implications of your question.
  • Because you have limited time, avoid complicated arguments. Make only a few points and make them clearly.
  • Write/speak with the active voice.
  • Use signal words as you speak (thus, therefore, first, second, finally).
  • Construct sentences with frequent closure.
  • Avoid derived words ("isms," "ations").
  • Use metaphors and analogies to help the audience better understand your concepts.
  • Don't show the entire thought process, just the end points.

See also Writing a Journal Article for online and print resources on writing academic papers.

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