Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. (Albert Einstein)
Conference abstracts – a brief description of the research or skills that you plan to present at an academic or industry gathering – can be tricky. There are parsimonious word limits within which you must put your best foot forward, yet you need to include enough detail to convey the value and differentiation of what you are proposing for the selection committee. It’s a bit like advertising copy: the idea is to grab the customer right from the start, and then convincingly demonstrate why your product is necessary and desirable. With concision, clarity and simplicity.
I use four key questions to guide my abstract-writing. This keeps me focused on articulating what the value-add will be to both the conference and the audience, since value-add is what the selection committee really cares about (while wading through reams of submissions).
Here they are – my four guiding questions (accompanied by supplementary explanatory questions):
- Why is it relevant to the audience? (Why should they care?)
- What are the key components (points/data/major findings) of your talk/session? (What do you bring to the table?)
- What instructional strategies will you use? (Is this going to be boring or amazing?)
- What will people take away? (How will this session make the world just a tiny bit better?)
I have been on both sides (submitting and reviewing abstracts), and in my experience, if you can satisfactorily answer the above questions in a brief and well-written abstract, your chances of success will be greatly increased.
Bonus tip: Conferences have varying formatting requirements, word limits, and submission guidelines. Make sure to check all of this on the conference website before agonizing over your submission.