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Important Tips for Writing an Effective Conference Abstract

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Academic conferences are an important part of graduate work. They offer researchers an opportunity to present their work and network with other researchers. So, how does a researcher get invited to present their work at an academic conference ? The first step is to write and submit an abstract of your research paper .

The purpose of a conference abstract is to summarize the main points of your paper that you will present in the academic conference. In it, you need to convince conference organizers that you have something important and valuable to add to the conference. Therefore, it needs to be focused and clear in explaining your topic and the main points of research that you will share with the audience.

The Main Points of a Conference Abstract

There are some general formulas for creating a conference abstract .

Formula : topic + title + motivation + problem statement + approach + results + conclusions = conference abstract

Here are the main points that you need to include.

The title needs to grab people’s attention. Most importantly, it needs to state your topic clearly and develop interest. This will give organizers an idea of how your paper fits the focus of the conference.

Problem Statement

You should state the specific problem that you are trying to solve.

The abstract needs to illustrate the purpose of your work. This is the point that will help the conference organizer determine whether or not to include your paper in a conference session.

You have a problem before you: What approach did you take towards solving the problem? You can include how you organized this study and the research that you used.

Important Things to Know When Developing Your Abstract

Do your research on the conference.

You need to know the deadline for abstract submissions. And, you should submit your abstract as early as possible.

Do some research on the conference to see what the focus is and how your topic fits. This includes looking at the range of sessions that will be at the conference. This will help you see which specific session would be the best fit for your paper.

Select Your Keywords Carefully

Keywords play a vital role in increasing the discoverability of your article. Use the keywords that most appropriately reflect the content of your article.

Once you are clear on the topic of the conference, you can tailor your abstract to fit specific sessions.

An important part of keeping your focus is knowing the word limit for the abstract. Most word limits are around 250-300 words. So, be concise.

Use Example Abstracts as a Guide

Looking at examples of abstracts is always a big help. Look at general examples of abstracts and examples of abstracts in your field. Take notes to understand the main points that make an abstract effective.

Avoid Fillers and Jargon

As stated earlier, abstracts are supposed to be concise, yet informative. Avoid using words or phrases that do not add any specific value to your research. Keep the sentences short and crisp to convey just as much information as needed.

Edit with a Fresh Mind

After you write your abstract, step away from it. Then, look it over with a fresh mind. This will help you edit it to improve its effectiveness. In addition, you can also take the help of professional editing services that offer quick deliveries.

Remain Focused and Establish Your Ideas

The main point of an abstract is to catch the attention of the conference organizers. So, you need to be focused in developing the importance of your work. You want to establish the importance of your ideas in as little as 250-300 words.

Have you attended a conference as a student? What experiences do you have with conference abstracts? Please share your ideas in the comments. You can also visit our  Q&A forum for frequently asked questions related to different aspects of research writing, presenting, and publishing answered by our team that comprises subject-matter experts, eminent researchers, and publication experts.

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Tips for Writing Conference Paper Abstracts

So you want to answer the Call for Papers? This is a general guide for crafting stand-out conference paper abstracts. It includes recommendations for the content and presentation of the abstract, as well as examples of the best abstracts submitted to the 2012-2013 abstract selection committee for the ninth annual North Carolina State University graduate student history conference.

Typically, an abstract describes the topic you would like to present at the conference, highlighting your argument, evidence and contribution to the historical literature. It is usually restricted to 250-500 words. The word limit can be challenging: some graduate students do not fret over the short limit and hastily write and submit an abstract at the last minute, which often hurts their chances of being accepted; other students try to condense the Next Great American Novel into 250 words, which can be equally damning. Graduate students who approach the abstract early, plan accordingly, and carefully edit are the ones most often invited to present their research. For those who are intimidated by the project, don’t be – the abstract is a fairly standardized form of writing. Follow the basic guidelines below and avoid common pitfalls and you will greatly improve your abstract.

Diligently follow all abstract style and formatting guidelines. Most CFPs will specify page or word length, and perhaps some layout or style guidelines. Some CFPs, however, will list very specific restrictions, including font, font size, spacing, text justification, margins, how to present quotes, how to present authors and works, whether to include footnotes or not. Make sure that you strictly adhere to all guidelines, including submission instructions. If a CFP does not provide abstract style and formatting guidelines, it is generally appropriate to stay around 250 words – abstract committees read a lot of these things and do not look fondly on comparatively long abstracts. Make sure that you orient your abstract topic to address any specific CFP themes, time periods, methods, and/or buzzwords.

With a 250-500 word limit, write only what is necessary, avoiding wordiness. Use active voice and pay attention to excessive prepositional phrasing.

Plan your abstract carefully before writing it. A good abstract will address the following questions:  What is the historical question or problem? Contextualize your topic. What is your thesis/argument? It should be original. What is your evidence? State forthrightly that you are using primary source material. How does your paper fit into the historiography? What's going on in the field of study and how does your paper contribute to it? Why does it matter? We know the topic is important to you, why should it be important to the abstract selection committee?

You should be as specific as possible, avoiding overly broad or overreaching statements and claims. And that’s it: don’t get sidetracked by writing too much narrative or over explaining. Say what you need to say and nothing more.

Keep your audience in mind. How much background you give on a topic will depend on the conference. Is the conference a general humanities conference, a general graduate student history conference, or something more specific like a 1960s social revolutions conference? Your pitch should be suited to the specificity of the conference: the more specific the topic, the less broad background you need to give and vice versa.

Revise and edit your abstract to ensure that its final presentation is error free. The editing phase is also the best time to see your abstract as a whole and chip away at unnecessary words or phrases. The final draft should be linear and clear and it should read smoothly. If you are tripping over something while reading, the abstract selection committee will as well. Ask another graduate student to read your abstract to ensure its clarity or attend a Graduate Student Writing Group meeting.

Your language should be professional and your style should adhere to academic standards. Contractions may be appealing because of the word limits, but they should be avoided. If citation guidelines are not specifically given, it is appropriate to use the author’s name and title of work (in either italics or quotation marks) within the text rather than use footnotes or in-text citations.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid

Misusing questions.

While one question, if really good, may be posed in your abstract, you should avoid writing more than one (maybe two, if really really good). If you do pose a question or two, make sure that you either answer it or address why the question matters to your conference paper – unless you are posing an obvious rhetorical question, you should never just let a question hang there. Too many questions takes up too much space and leaves less room for you to develop your argument, methods, evidence, historiography, etc. Often times, posing too many questions leaves the abstract committee wondering if you are going to address one or all in your paper and if you even know the answers to them. Remember, you are not expected to have already written your conference paper, but you are expected to have done enough research that you are prepared to write about a specific topic that you can adequately cover in 15-20 minutes. Prove that you have done so.

Extraneous Jargon and Over-the-Top Phrasing

Language that helps you be as specific as possible in presenting your argument is great but don’t get your readers bogged down in jargon. They will be reading a lot of abstracts and will not want to wade through the unnecessary language. Keep it simple.

Repetition of Claims

When students repeat claims, they often don’t realize they are doing so. Sometimes this happens because students are not yet clear on their argument. Think about it some more and then write. Other times, students write carelessly and do not proofread. Make sure each sentence is unique and that it contributes to the flow of your abstract.

Writing too Broadly about a Topic

The abstract committee does not need to be reminded of the grand sweep of history in order to contextualize your topic. Place your topic specifically within the historiography.

The samples below represent the five highest scoring samples submitted to the selection committee for the ninth annual graduate student history conference, 2012-2013. Two of the samples below were subsequently selected for publication in the NC State Graduate Journal of History . Outstanding papers presented at the graduate student history conference are recommended for publication by panel commentators. Papers go through a peer review process before publication.

Sample 1: “Asserting Rights, Reclaiming Space: District of Marshpee v. Phineas Fish, 1833-1843”

From May of 1833 to March of 1834, the Mashpee Wampancag tribe of Cape Cod Massachusetts waged an aggressive campaign to gain political and religious autonomy from the state. In March of 1834, the Massachusetts legislature passed an act disbanding the white guardians appointed to conduct affairs for the Mashpee tribe and incorporated Mashpee as an Indian district. The Mashpee tribe's fight to restore self-government and control over land and resources represents a significant "recover of Native space." Equally significant is what happened once that space was recovered.

The topic of this paper addresses an understudied and essential period in the history of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. Despite a growing body of literature on the Mashpee, scholars largely neglect the period between 1834 and 1869. This paper looks as the Mashpee tribe's campaign to dismiss Harvard appointed minister Phineas Fish; the fight to regain the parsonage he occupied, its resources, and the community meetinghouse. This paper will argue the tribe asserted its power within the political and physical landscape to reclaim their meetinghouse and the parsonage land. Ultimately, this assertion contributed to shaping, strengthening, and remaking Mashpee community identity. This study examines legislative reports, petitions, letters, and legal documents to construct a narrative of Native agency in the antebellum period. [Note: This is part of my larger thesis project (in progress0 "Mashpee Wampanoag Government Formation and the Evolving Community Identity in the District of Marshpee, 1834-1849."]

Note: This paper, entitled " Testing Rights in Contested Space: The District of Marshpee versus Reverend Phineas Fish, 1833-1839 " was subsequently selected for publication in the NC State Graduate Journal of History .

Sample 2: “Private Paths to Public Places: Local Actors and the Creation of National Parklands in the American South”

This paper explores the connections between private individuals, government entities, and non-governmental organizations in the creation of parklands throughout the American South. While current historiography primarily credits the federal government with the creation of parks and protection of natural wonders, an investigation of parklands in the Southern United States reveals a reoccurring connection between private initiative and park creation. Secondary literature occasionally reflects the importance of local and non-government sources for the preservation of land, yet these works still emphasize the importance of a national bureaucracy setting the tone fore the parks movement. Some works, including Jacoby's Crimes Against Nature examine local actors, but focus on opposition to the imposition of new rules governing land in the face of some outside threat. In spite of scholarly recognition of non-government agencies and local initiative, the importance of local individuals in the creation of parklands remains and understudies aspect of American environmental history. Several examples in the American South raise concerns about the traditional narrative pitting governmental hegemony against local resistance. This paper argues for widespread, sustained interest in both nature preservation and in creating spaces for public recreation at the local level, and finds that the "private path to public parks" merits further investigation.

Note: This paper, entitled " Private Paths to Public Parks in the American South " was subsequently selected for publication in the NC State Graduate Journal of History .

Sample 3: Untitled

Previous generations of English Historians have produced a rich literature about the Levellers and their role in the English Civil Wars (1642-1649), primarily focused on the Putney Debates and their contributions to Anglophone legal and political thought. Typically, their push to extend the franchise and espousal of a theory of popular sovereignty has been central to accounts of Civil War radicalism. Other revisionist accounts depict them as a fragmented sect of millenarian radicals whose religious bent marginalized and possibility that they could make lasting contributions to English politics or society. This paper seeks to locate a Leveller theory of religious toleration, while explaining how their conception of political activity overlapped their religious ideas. Rather than focusing on John Lilburne, often taken as the public face of the Leveller movement, this paper will focus on the equally interesting and far more consistent thinker, William Walwyn. Surveying his personal background, published writings, popular involvement in the Leveller movement, and attacks launched by his critics, I hope to suggest that Walwyn's unique contribution to Anglophone political thought was his defense of religious pluralism in the face of violent sectarians who sought to wield control of the Church of England. Although the Levellers were ultimately suppressed, Walwyn's commitment to a tolerant society and a secular state should not be minimized but rather recognized as part of a larger debate about Church-State relations across early modern Europe. Ultimately this paper aims to contribute to the rich historiography of religious toleration and popular politics more broadly.

Sample 4: “Establishing a National Memory of Citizen Slaughter: A Case Study of the First Memory Site to Mass Murder in United States History - Edmond, Oklahoma, 1986-1989”

Since 1989, memory sites to events of mass murder have not only proliferated rapidly--they have become the normative expectation within American society. For the vast majority of American history, however, events commonly labeled as "mass murder" have resulted in no permanent memory sites and the sites of perpetration themselves have traditionally been either obliterated or rectified so that both the community and the nation could forget the tragedy and move on. This all changed on May 29, 1989 when the community of Edmond, Oklahoma officially dedicated the "Golden Ribbon" memorial to the thirteen people killed in the infamous "post office shooting" of 1986. In this paper I investigate the case of Edmond in order to understand why it became the first memory site of this kind in United States history. I argue that the small town of Edmond's unique political abnormalities on the day of the shooting, coupled with the near total community involvement established ideal conditions for the emergence of this unique type of memory site. I also conduct a historiography of the usage of "the ribbon" in order to illustrate how it has become the symbol of memories of violence and death in American society in the late 20th century. Lastly, I illustrate how the notable lack of communication between people involved in the Edmond and Oklahoma City cases after the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing--despite the close geographic and temporal proximity of these cases--illustrates this routinely isolated nature of commemorating mass murder and starkly renders the surprising number of aesthetic similarities that these memory sites share.

Sample 5: “Roman Urns and Sarcophagi: The Quest for Postmortem Identity during the Pax Romana”

"If you want to know who I am, the answer is ash and burnt embers;" thus read an anonymous early Roman's burial inscription. The Romans dealt with death in a variety of ways which incorporated a range of cultural conventions and beliefs--or non-beliefs as in the case of the "ash and embers." By the turn of the first century of this era, the Romans practiced cremation almost exclusively--as the laconic eloquence of the anonymous Roman also succinctly explained. Cremation vanished by the third century, replaced by the practice of the distant past by the fifth century. Burial first began to take hold in the western Roman Empire during the early second century, with the appearance of finely-crafted sarcophagi, but elites from the Roman world did not discuss the practices of cremation and burial in detail. Therefore archaeological evidence, primarily in form of burial vessels such as urns and sarcophagi represented the only place to turn to investigate the transitional to inhumation in the Roman world. This paper analyzed a small corpus of such vessels in order to identify symbolic elements which demarcate individual identities in death, comparing the patterns of these symbols to the fragments of text available relating to death in the Roman world. The analysis concluded that the transition to inhumantion was a movement caused by an increased desire on the part of Romans to preserve identity in death during and following the Pax Romana.

Selection of Papers

In general, the program committee evaluates the abstracts on the following basis:

  • Intervention in the Historiography: Does the abstract ask new historical questions? Does the proposal provide new insights on familiar topics?
  • Clarity of Presentation: Does the abstract clearly define the topic, scope, and methodologies?
  • Argument: Does the abstract clearly lay out the historical argument?
  • Style: Is the abstract free of grammatical errors, major spelling mistakes, or other problems that suggest the presenter may not be prepared to deliver a polished paper?

While the co-president of the HGSA organizes and facilitates the abstract selection committee each year and may change the selection process and methods, this rubric still represents a general guide for what a committee looks for when selecting conference participants. Selection is not a science, however: great abstracts are often not accepted because of panel design. It is unlikely, however, that poor abstracts will be selected to fill out panels.

Additional Resources

  • Writing Academic Proposals: Conferences, Articles, and Books
  • Guidelines for Writing Effective Abstracts for Conference Paper Presentations
  • How to Write a Paper or Conference Proposal Abstract

How to Write an Abstract for a Conference

January 27 2022 Thursday, January 27, 2022 Tips and Tricks

Matthieu Chartier, PhD.

Founder @ Fourwaves

Scientific conferences are a great way to show your work to researchers in your field, get useful feedback and network. For most conferences, you will need to submit an abstract of your research project to register. 

I remember when, a few months into my graduate studies, my supervisor recommended that I submit an abstract for a conference. It was exciting but also intimidating. I felt I did not know my work well enough to write it. In fact, the process of writing the abstract gave me a much better grasp of my research project. 

I have since then written over a dozen abstracts for conferences and developed a process I’ll share with you today.

But first, what makes a great abstract? A great abstract contains all the key points and no unnecessary details of the research it relates to. It is a stand-alone text that conveys a clear message and tells you whether the research paper, poster or presentation is of interest to you.  

The abstract is the only information that scientific conference organizers will have access to. From it, they will assess the quality of your work and decide whether it is worth including in the event. Writing a great abstract improves your chances of being selected.

There are two main types of abstracts: classic or academic abstracts (the focus of this article) and layman summaries (more on these later).

How to write an abstract for a conference

1. check the guidelines.

Make sure you carefully read and follow the submission guidelines. Not doing so could get your abstract automatically rejected. One study reported that over 70% of abstracts submitted were rejected for not adhering to the submission guidelines.

Conference websites will usually provide detailed indications about formatting (font, spacing) and word count (typically 200-300 words). If no indications are given, you can consult abstract examples in the handbooks for previous years of the conference.

Make sure to check the indications for writing the authors’ names (sometimes the presenting author must be highlighted) and affiliations. At the same time, don’t forget to include everyone who has contributed to the work.

2. Choose your abstract title

The title should make it clear what your project is about and spark interest. If you’re not given specific directions, try to make it around 12 words. If you can’t read it in one breath, it’s probably too long! 

3. Define the background and motivation

This section answers the “why” of your research. Start with one or two sentences stating what is known in your field of study. Then, point out the gap that your research addresses or what question(s) you’re trying to answer. You need to convey what is the purpose of your project and its relevance. Sometimes the guidelines will require you to write the goals and/or hypothesis of your project.

4. The methodology

In this section you need to answer the “how” of your project. Outline the tools, study design, sample characteristics. There’s no need to be overly detailed here. For example, you don’t need to get into the specifics of the statistic tests you used if your project goals are not related to statistics.   

5. Main results and findings

This is the “what” section, as in “what did you find”? Ideally, the results should be the longest section of the abstract, say 40-50% of the total word count. This gives you some leeway in how many sentences you can use. State the main findings of your work in accordance with what you wrote in the background section.

The results should be unbiased and factual. Stay away from writing about the significance of your findings here. You can use linking words such as “moreover” or “in contrast” but avoid “interestingly” or “unexpectedly”, especially if it won’t be clear for the readers why the finding has such connotation. 

If you’re just a few months into your project, you might not have a lot of results yet, and that is ok. Do not try to extend this section by adding results that are not significant or just preliminary. You can show those in the actual presentation or poster and discuss them accordingly. 

6. Conclusions and relevance

Clearly state the main conclusion(s) that arise from your results. This is the moment to express the significance of your findings. Contrast them to existing literature; are they in accordance or opposition to previous studies? Highlight any novelty in your discoveries. Express the implications of your findings within the field and what new research avenues they open. 

7. Keywords

Sometimes, abstract submissions will allow you to add keywords . These are a great tool for people to find your work when they search for specific words. Choose words related to your research that are commonly used in your field. For inspiration, look up the keywords in related research papers you read.

Abstract structure

It is common for conferences to ask for a structured abstract. In this format, each section (background/introduction, methods, results, conclusions) is identified and separated from the rest. In traditional unstructured abstracts, all sections are combined. Other than that, the writing is pretty much the same in both cases. 

Layman abstracts

Layman or lay summaries are written in plain language so they can be understood by the general public. They are required for certain scholarships or to obtain government fundings. In these cases, people who are not experts in your field need to be able to grasp the significance of your research.

When writing a lay summary, don’t think of it as a “translation”, sentence by sentence, of your academic abstract. Rather, think of how you would explain and convey the importance of your project to a family member or a friend. Avoid any field-specific jargon. Be brief for the more technical sections (methods and results) and expand on the background, main conclusions, and relevance of your research.

You can read these guidelines for more guidance on how to write a lay summary.

General tips

  • Start writing your abstract early. Whatever time you think it will take, double it. Having a draft of your abstract way before the deadline will allow you to go back to it, edit and make improvements. 
  • Ask your colleagues, other graduate students and certainly your supervisor to look over your abstract and give you feedback before you submit it.
  • Most likely you will find the word limits constricting. One thing that will help is to use, as in all scientific writing, short clear sentences. Make every single word count. Every sentence should serve a purpose.
  • Find the handbook for previous years of the conference you are interested in. It will contain some successful abstract examples to model. 
  • Read abstracts of papers in your field and evaluate whether they are successful or not. 
  • Finally, practice makes perfect. Keep updating and improving your abstract as your research goes along and submit to multiple conferences.

Abstract submission management

If you’re in charge of collecting abstracts for a conference, it’s best to have a system or use a software to avoid errors and confusion. A custom form for abstract submission is better than collecting them by email. Other things to consider are how you're going to manage the peer reviews and make abstract available online if relevant.

In conclusion

Only the key points of your research should be in your conference abstract. A great abstract can generate excitement and interest in your project. Writing a great abstract demonstrates that you know your stuff, and ultimately, that is what conference organizers are looking for.

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January 27th, 2015

How to write a killer conference abstract: the first step towards an engaging presentation..

34 comments | 122 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes


The Impact blog has an  ‘essential ‘how-to’ guide to writing good abstracts’ . While this post makes some excellent points, its title and first sentence don’t differentiate between article and conference abstracts. The standfirst talks about article abstracts, but then the first sentence is, ‘Abstracts tend to be rather casually written, perhaps at the beginning of writing when authors don’t yet really know what they want to say, or perhaps as a rushed afterthought just before submission to a journal or a conference.’ This, coming so soon after the title, gives the impression that the post is about both article and conference abstracts.

I think there are some fundamental differences between the two. For example:

  • Article abstracts are presented to journal editors along with the article concerned. Conference abstracts are presented alone to conference organisers. This means that journal editors or peer reviewers can say e.g. ‘great article but the abstract needs work’, while a poor abstract submitted to a conference organiser is very unlikely to be accepted.
  • Articles are typically 4,000-8,000 words long. Conference presentation slots usually allow 20 minutes so, given that – for good listening comprehension – presenters should speak at around 125 words per minute, a conference presentation should be around 2,500 words long.
  • Articles are written to be read from the page, while conference presentations are presented in person. Written grammar is different from spoken grammar, and there is nothing so tedious for a conference audience than the old-skool approach of reading your written presentation from the page. Fewer people do this now – but still, too many. It’s unethical to bore people! You need to engage your audience, and conference organisers will like to know how you intend to hold their interest.

Image credit:  allanfernancato  ( Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain )

The competition for getting a conference abstract accepted is rarely as fierce as the competition for getting an article accepted. Some conferences don’t even receive as many abstracts as they have presentation slots. But even then, they’re more likely to re-arrange their programme than to accept a poor quality abstract. And you can’t take it for granted that your abstract won’t face much competition. I’ve recently read over 90 abstracts submitted for the  Creative Research Methods conference in May  – for 24 presentation slots. As a result, I have four useful tips to share with you about how to write a killer conference abstract.

First , your conference abstract is a sales tool: you are selling your ideas, first to the conference organisers, and then to the conference delegates. You need to make your abstract as fascinating and enticing as possible. And that means making it different. So take a little time to think through some key questions:

  • What kinds of presentations is this conference most likely to attract? How can you make yours different?
  • What are the fashionable areas in your field right now? Are you working in one of these areas? If so, how can you make your presentation different from others doing the same? If not, how can you make your presentation appealing?

There may be clues in the call for papers, so study this carefully. For example, we knew that the  Creative Research Methods conference , like all general methods conferences, was likely to receive a majority of abstracts covering data collection methods. So we stated up front, in the call for papers, that we knew this was likely, and encouraged potential presenters to offer creative methods of planning research, reviewing literature, analysing data, writing research, and so on. Even so, around three-quarters of the abstracts we received focused on data collection. This meant that each of those abstracts was less likely to be accepted than an abstract focusing on a different aspect of the research process, because we wanted to offer delegates a good balance of presentations.

Currently fashionable areas in the field of research methods include research using social media and autoethnography/ embodiment. We received quite a few abstracts addressing these, but again, in the interests of balance, were only likely to accept one (at most) in each area. Remember that conference organisers are trying to create as interesting and stimulating an event as they can, and variety is crucial.

Second , write your abstract well. Unless your abstract is for a highly academic and theoretical conference, wear your learning lightly. Engaging concepts in plain English, with a sprinkling of references for context, is much more appealing to conference organisers wading through sheaves of abstracts than complicated sentences with lots of long words, definitions of terms, and several dozen references. Conference organisers are not looking for evidence that you can do really clever writing (save that for your article abstracts), they are looking for evidence that you can give an entertaining presentation.

Third , conference abstracts written in the future tense are off-putting for conference organisers, because they don’t make it clear that the potential presenter knows what they’ll be talking about. I was surprised by how many potential presenters did this. If your presentation will include information about work you’ll be doing in between the call for papers and the conference itself (which is entirely reasonable as this can be a period of six months or more), then make that clear. So, for example, don’t say, ‘This presentation will cover the problems I encounter when I analyse data with homeless young people, and how I solve those problems’, say, ‘I will be analysing data with homeless young people over the next three months, and in the following three months I will prepare a presentation about the problems we encountered while doing this and how we tackled those problems’.

Fourth , of course you need to tell conference organisers about your research: its context, method, and findings. It will also help enormously if you can take a sentence or three to explain what you intend to include in the presentation itself. So, perhaps something like, ‘I will briefly outline the process of participatory data analysis we developed, supported by slides. I will then show a two-minute video which will illustrate both the process in action and some of the problems encountered. After that, again using slides, I will outline each of the problems and how we tackled them in practice.’ This will give conference organisers some confidence that you can actually put together and deliver an engaging presentation.

So, to summarise, to maximise your chances of success when submitting conference abstracts:

  • Make your abstract fascinating, enticing, and different.
  • Write your abstract well, using plain English wherever possible.
  • Don’t write in the future tense if you can help it – and, if you must, specify clearly what you will do and when.
  • Explain your research, and also give an explanation of what you intend to include in the presentation.

While that won’t guarantee success, it will massively increase your chances. Best of luck!

This post originally appeared on the author’s personal blog and is reposted with permission.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our  Comments Policy  if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Author

Dr Helen Kara has been an independent social researcher in social care and health since 1999, and is an Associate Research Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre , University of Birmingham. She is on the Board of the UK’s Social Research Association , with lead responsibility for research ethics. She also teaches research methods to practitioners and students, and writes on research methods. Helen is the author of Research and Evaluation for Busy Practitioners (2012) and Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences (April 2015) , both published by Policy Press . She did her first degree in Social Psychology at the LSE.

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Personally, I’d rather not see reading a presentation written off so easily, for three off the cuff reasons:

1) Reading can be done really well, especially if the paper was written to be read.

2) It seems to be well suited to certain kinds of qualitative studies, particularly those that are narrative driven.

3) It seems to require a different kind of focus or concentration — one that requires more intensive listening (as opposed to following an outline driven presentation that’s supplemented with visuals, i.e., slides).

Admittedly, I’ve read some papers before, and writing them to be read can be a rewarding process, too. I had to pay attention to details differently: structure, tone, story, etc. It can be an insightful process, especially for works in progress.

Sean, thanks for your comment, which I think is a really useful addition to the discussion. I’ve sat through so many turgid not-written-to-be-read presentations that it never occurred to me they could be done well until I heard your thoughts. What you say makes a great deal of sense to me, particularly with presentations that are consciously ‘written to be read’ out loud. I think where they can get tedious is where a paper written for the page is read out loud instead, because for me that really doesn’t work. But I love to listen to stories, and I think of some of the quality storytelling that is broadcast on radio, and of audiobooks that work well (again, in my experience, they don’t all), and I do entirely see your point.

Helen, I appreciate your encouraging me remark on such a minor part of your post(!), which I enjoyed reading and will share. And thank you for the reply and the exchange on Twitter.

Very much enjoyed your post Helen. And your subsequent comments Sean. On the subject of the reading of a presentation. I agree that some people can write a paper specifically to be read and this can be done well. But I would think that this is a dying art. Perhaps in the humanities it might survive longer. Reading through the rest of your post I love the advice. I’m presenting at my first LIS conference next month and had I read your post first I probably would have written it differently. Advice for the future for me.

Martin – and Sean – thank you so much for your kind comments. Maybe there are steps we can take to keep the art alive; advocates for it, such as Sean, will no doubt help. And, Martin, if you’re presenting next month, you must have done perfectly well all by yourself! Congratulations on the acceptance, and best of luck for the presentation.

Great article! Obvious at it may seem, a point zero may be added before the other four: which _are_ your ideas?

A scientific writing coach told me she often runs a little exercise with her students. She tells them to put away their (journal) abstract and then asks them to summarize the bottom line in three statements. After some thinking, the students come up with an answer. Then the coach tells the students to reach for the abstract, read it and look for the bottom line they just summarised. Very often, they find that their own main observations and/or conclusions are not clearly expressed in the abstract.

PS I love the line “It’s unethical to bore people!” 🙂

Thanks for your comment, Olle – that’s a great point. I think something happens to us when we’re writing, in which we become so clear about what we want to say that we think we’ve said it even when we haven’t. Your friend’s exercise sounds like a great trick for finding out when we’ve done that. And thanks for the compliments, too!

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Thank you very much for the tips, they are really helpful. I have actually been accepted to present a PuchaKucha presentation in an educational interdisciplinary conference at my university. my presentation would be about the challenges faced by women in my country. So, it would be just a review of the literature. from what I’ve been reading, conferences are about new research and your new ideas… Is what I’m doing wrong??? that’s my first conference I’ll be speaking in and I’m afraid to ruin it!!! I will be really grateful about any advice ^_^

First of all: you’re not going to ruin the conference, even if you think you made a bad presentation. You should always remember that people are not very concerned about you–they are mostly concerned about themselves. Take comfort in that thought!

Here are some notes: • If it is a Pecha Kucha night, you stand in front of a mixed audience. Remember that scientists understand layman’s stuff, but laymen don’t understand scientists stuff. • Pecha Kucha is also very VISUAL! Remember that you can’t control the flow of slides – they change every 20 seconds. • Make your main messages clear. You can use either one of these templates.

A. Which are the THREE most important observations, conclusions, implications or messages from your study?

B. Inform them! (LOGOS) Engage them! (PATHOS) Make an impression! (ETHOS)

C. What do you do as a scientist/is a study about? What problem(s) do you address? How is your research different? Why should I care?

Good luck and remember to focus on (1) the audience, (2) your mission, (3) your stuff and (4) yourself, in that order.

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I don’t know whether it’s just me or if perhaps everybody else encountering problems with your site. It appears as if some of the text in your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This could be a issue with my browser because I’ve had this happen before. Thank you

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Thank you Dr Kara for the great guide on creating killer abstracts for conferences. I am preparing to write an abstract for my first conference presentation and this has been educative and insightful. ‘ I choose to be ethical and not bore my audience’.

Thank you Judy for your kind comment. I wish you luck with your abstract and your presentation. Helen

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Dear Dr. Helen Kara, Can there be an abstract for a topic presentation? I need to present a topic in a conference.I searched in the net and couldnt find anything like an abstract for a topic presentation but only found abstract for article presentation. Urgent.Help!

Dear Rekha Sthapit, I think it would be the same – but if in doubt, you could ask the conference organisers to clarify what they mean by ‘topic presentation’. Good luck!

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How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation

Chittaranjan andrade.

Department of Psychopharmacology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, Karnataka, India

Abstracts of scientific papers are sometimes poorly written, often lack important information, and occasionally convey a biased picture. This paper provides detailed suggestions, with examples, for writing the background, methods, results, and conclusions sections of a good abstract. The primary target of this paper is the young researcher; however, authors with all levels of experience may find useful ideas in the paper.


This paper is the third in a series on manuscript writing skills, published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry . Earlier articles offered suggestions on how to write a good case report,[ 1 ] and how to read, write, or review a paper on randomized controlled trials.[ 2 , 3 ] The present paper examines how authors may write a good abstract when preparing their manuscript for a scientific journal or conference presentation. Although the primary target of this paper is the young researcher, it is likely that authors with all levels of experience will find at least a few ideas that may be useful in their future efforts.

The abstract of a paper is the only part of the paper that is published in conference proceedings. The abstract is the only part of the paper that a potential referee sees when he is invited by an editor to review a manuscript. The abstract is the only part of the paper that readers see when they search through electronic databases such as PubMed. Finally, most readers will acknowledge, with a chuckle, that when they leaf through the hard copy of a journal, they look at only the titles of the contained papers. If a title interests them, they glance through the abstract of that paper. Only a dedicated reader will peruse the contents of the paper, and then, most often only the introduction and discussion sections. Only a reader with a very specific interest in the subject of the paper, and a need to understand it thoroughly, will read the entire paper.

Thus, for the vast majority of readers, the paper does not exist beyond its abstract. For the referees, and the few readers who wish to read beyond the abstract, the abstract sets the tone for the rest of the paper. It is therefore the duty of the author to ensure that the abstract is properly representative of the entire paper. For this, the abstract must have some general qualities. These are listed in Table 1 .

General qualities of a good abstract

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Although some journals still publish abstracts that are written as free-flowing paragraphs, most journals require abstracts to conform to a formal structure within a word count of, usually, 200–250 words. The usual sections defined in a structured abstract are the Background, Methods, Results, and Conclusions; other headings with similar meanings may be used (eg, Introduction in place of Background or Findings in place of Results). Some journals include additional sections, such as Objectives (between Background and Methods) and Limitations (at the end of the abstract). In the rest of this paper, issues related to the contents of each section will be examined in turn.

This section should be the shortest part of the abstract and should very briefly outline the following information:

  • What is already known about the subject, related to the paper in question
  • What is not known about the subject and hence what the study intended to examine (or what the paper seeks to present)

In most cases, the background can be framed in just 2–3 sentences, with each sentence describing a different aspect of the information referred to above; sometimes, even a single sentence may suffice. The purpose of the background, as the word itself indicates, is to provide the reader with a background to the study, and hence to smoothly lead into a description of the methods employed in the investigation.

Some authors publish papers the abstracts of which contain a lengthy background section. There are some situations, perhaps, where this may be justified. In most cases, however, a longer background section means that less space remains for the presentation of the results. This is unfortunate because the reader is interested in the paper because of its findings, and not because of its background.

A wide variety of acceptably composed backgrounds is provided in Table 2 ; most of these have been adapted from actual papers.[ 4 – 9 ] Readers may wish to compare the content in Table 2 with the original abstracts to see how the adaptations possibly improve on the originals. Note that, in the interest of brevity, unnecessary content is avoided. For instance, in Example 1 there is no need to state “The antidepressant efficacy of desvenlafaxine (DV), a dual-acting antidepressant drug , has been established…” (the unnecessary content is italicized).

Examples of the background section of an abstract

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The methods section is usually the second-longest section in the abstract. It should contain enough information to enable the reader to understand what was done, and how. Table 3 lists important questions to which the methods section should provide brief answers.

Questions regarding which information should ideally be available in the methods section of an abstract

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Carelessly written methods sections lack information about important issues such as sample size, numbers of patients in different groups, doses of medications, and duration of the study. Readers have only to flip through the pages of a randomly selected journal to realize how common such carelessness is.

Table 4 presents examples of the contents of accept-ably written methods sections, modified from actual publications.[ 10 , 11 ] Readers are invited to take special note of the first sentence of each example in Table 4 ; each is packed with detail, illustrating how to convey the maximum quantity of information with maximum economy of word count.

Examples of the methods section of an abstract

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The results section is the most important part of the abstract and nothing should compromise its range and quality. This is because readers who peruse an abstract do so to learn about the findings of the study. The results section should therefore be the longest part of the abstract and should contain as much detail about the findings as the journal word count permits. For example, it is bad writing to state “Response rates differed significantly between diabetic and nondiabetic patients.” A better sentence is “The response rate was higher in nondiabetic than in diabetic patients (49% vs 30%, respectively; P <0.01).”

Important information that the results should present is indicated in Table 5 . Examples of acceptably written abstracts are presented in Table 6 ; one of these has been modified from an actual publication.[ 11 ] Note that the first example is rather narrative in style, whereas the second example is packed with data.

Information that the results section of the abstract should ideally present

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Examples of the results section of an abstract

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This section should contain the most important take-home message of the study, expressed in a few precisely worded sentences. Usually, the finding highlighted here relates to the primary outcome measure; however, other important or unexpected findings should also be mentioned. It is also customary, but not essential, for the authors to express an opinion about the theoretical or practical implications of the findings, or the importance of their findings for the field. Thus, the conclusions may contain three elements:

  • The primary take-home message
  • The additional findings of importance
  • The perspective

Despite its necessary brevity, this section has the most impact on the average reader because readers generally trust authors and take their assertions at face value. For this reason, the conclusions should also be scrupulously honest; and authors should not claim more than their data demonstrate. Hypothetical examples of the conclusions section of an abstract are presented in Table 7 .

Examples of the conclusions section of an abstract

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Citation of references anywhere within an abstract is almost invariably inappropriate. Other examples of unnecessary content in an abstract are listed in Table 8 .

Examples of unnecessary content in a abstract

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It goes without saying that whatever is present in the abstract must also be present in the text. Likewise, whatever errors should not be made in the text should not appear in the abstract (eg, mistaking association for causality).

As already mentioned, the abstract is the only part of the paper that the vast majority of readers see. Therefore, it is critically important for authors to ensure that their enthusiasm or bias does not deceive the reader; unjustified speculations could be even more harmful. Misleading readers could harm the cause of science and have an adverse impact on patient care.[ 12 ] A recent study,[ 13 ] for example, concluded that venlafaxine use during the second trimester of pregnancy may increase the risk of neonates born small for gestational age. However, nowhere in the abstract did the authors mention that these conclusions were based on just 5 cases and 12 controls out of the total sample of 126 cases and 806 controls. There were several other serious limitations that rendered the authors’ conclusions tentative, at best; yet, nowhere in the abstract were these other limitations expressed.

As a parting note: Most journals provide clear instructions to authors on the formatting and contents of different parts of the manuscript. These instructions often include details on what the sections of an abstract should contain. Authors should tailor their abstracts to the specific requirements of the journal to which they plan to submit their manuscript. It could also be an excellent idea to model the abstract of the paper, sentence for sentence, on the abstract of an important paper on a similar subject and with similar methodology, published in the same journal for which the manuscript is slated.

Source of Support: Nil

Conflict of Interest: None declared.

American Society for Microbiology

Tips for writing your first conference abstract.

July 17, 2019

Communicating your research is an important part of being a scientist. While submitting an abstract to a national conference can seem overwhelming, it is one of the best ways to communicate your science and get your research in front of a large audience.

Students interested in learning how to write an abstract should review these helpful tips that describe components of a competitive abstract . Also review the below suggestions from ASM education specialist, Dr. Christopher Skipwith, on best practices for preparing your first abstract for a scientific conference.

Read the Instructions

Although this may be obvious, many times, abstracts are rejected because they are missing key components. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the submission requirements before starting your abstract.

Understand the Target Audience

Who will be reading your abstract? Whether you are submitting to a field-specific or general conference, make sure the language you use can be easily understood by your target audience. Field-specific language may be appropriate for specialized conferences, however plain language must be used for conferences that cover a wide range of fields.

When using acronyms, remember to always provide the full phrase on the first mention accompanied by the acronym in parenthesis.

Clearly State the Hypothesis/Statement of Purpose

Not every project has a hypothesis, but all projects have a purpose. Figure out the research questions you are trying to answer and include the hypothesis or purpose of your research in the abstract. It is imperative to communicate your hypothesis/statement of purpose clearly so the reader can get a better context of your research goals and understand the importance of your research.

Tie Results and Conclusions Back to the Hypothesis/Statement of Purpose

After you have written your results and conclusions, go back to your hypothesis/statement of purpose. Do the results and conclusions clearly support your research purpose? What did the results say about your hypothesis? Make sure the links between these components are obvious to the reader.

Review, Then Review Again

Re-read your abstract against a copy of the abstract guidelines. As you go through, check off each guideline to ensure your abstract is complete. Remember that even if it has all the requirements, a poorly written abstract will not be accepted. Then have multiple people, including your Principal Investigator, read it over. Incorporate their feedback to ensure a strong submission.

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How to write an abstract for a conference

how to write abstract conference

Learning how to write an abstract for a conference is a matter of following a simple formula for success. Here it is.

Learning how to write an abstract for a conference is a critical skill for early-career researchers. The purpose of an abstract is to summarise – in a single paragraph – the major aspects of the paper you want to present, so it’s important you learn to write a complete but concise abstract that does your conference paper justice.

Your conference abstract is often the only piece of your work that conference organisers will see, so it needs to be strong enough to stand alone. And once your work is accepted or published, researchers will only consider attending your presentation or reading the rest of your paper if your abstract compels them to.

So learning how to write an abstract well is pretty important. Happily, while every research discipline varies, most successful abstracts follow a similar formula.

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The formula for how to write an abstract

When considering how to write an abstract, follow this formula:   topic + title + motivation + problem statement + approach + results + conclusions = conference abstract

Here’s the formula in more detail. Adapt it as you need to fit your research discipline.

1. Abstract topic

How will your abstract convince the conference organisers that you’ll add to the discussion on a particular topic at their event? Your conference presentation will have limited scope, so choose an angle that fits the conference topics and consider your abstract through that lens.

2. Abstract title

What is your conference paper about and what makes it interesting? A good rule of thumb is to give your abstract a title of 12 words or less.

3. Motivation

Why should your readers care about the problem and your results? This section should include the background to your research, the importance of it, and the difficulty of the area.

4. The problem

What problem are you trying to solve? Are you using a generalised approach, or is it for a specific situation? (If the problem your research addresses is widely recognised, include this section before motivation.) Clearly state the topic of your paper and your research question in this section.

5. Study design

How did you approach solving the problem or making progress on it? How did you design your study? What was the extent of your research?

6. Predictions and results

What findings or trends did your analysis uncover? Were they as you expected, or not?

7. Conclusions

What do your results mean? How will they contribute to your field? Will they shake things up, speed things up, or simply show other researchers that this specific area may be a dead end. Are your results general (or generalisable) or highly specific?

Tips for writing a successful conference abstract

Conference organisers usually have more submissions than presentation slots, so use these tips to improve the chances your abstract is successful.

Follow the conference abstract guidelines

Screenshot of Ex Ordo abstract management software showing guide for authors showing abstract submission guidelines on

Submission guidelines on Ex Ordo abstract management software

Double-check the conference guidelines for abstract style and spacing. You’ll usually find these in a guide for authors on the conference’s abstract management software or on the conference website. Although they’re usually pretty standard, some conferences have specific formatting guidelines. And you need to follow them to a T.

Carefully select your abstract keywords

Abstract keywords help other researchers find your work once it’s published, and lots of conferences request that authors provide these when they submit. These should be the words that most accurately reflect the content of your paper.

Find example abstracts

Familiarise yourself with conference abstracts in the wild. Get your hands on the conference book of abstracts from previous years – if you can’t find it online, your supervisor may have a copy lying about. Look for examples of abstracts submitted by early-career researchers especially, and try to pinpoint what made each one successful.

Edit with fresh eyes

Once you’ve written your abstract, give yourself at least a day away from it. Editing it with fresh eyes can help you be more objective in deciding what’s essential.

Cut filler and jargon

Space is limited, so be as concise as you can by cutting words or phrases that aren’t necessary. Keep sentences short enough that you can read them aloud without having to pause for breath. And steer clear of jargon that’s specific to one field – especially if you’re submitting to an interdisciplinary conference.

Submit early

Conferences organisers often begin reviewing abstracts before the submissions deadline arrives, and they’re often swamped with submissions right before the deadline. Submit your abstract well before the deadline and you may help your chances of being accepted.

Submit often

As an early-career researcher, conferences are often the first place you’ll have your work published, so conference abstracts are a great place to learn. The more abstracts you write and submit, the better you’ll get at writing them. So keep trying. Subscribe to PaperCrowd to find suitable conferences to submit to.

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Sources on how to write an abstract for specific fields

How to write an abstract for humanities or social sciences conference.

Catherine Baker has written a great piece about answering a conference call for papers .

Helen Kara on the LSE Blog writes about the differences between conference abstracts and abstracts for journals .

How to write an abstract for a scientific conference

Chittaranjan Andrade writes in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry on how to write a good  scientific abstract for a conference presentation .

This piece from BioScience Writers gives some good tips on writing about scientific research .

How to write a computer architecture abstract

The “how to write an abstract” formula above was adapted from this excellent piece by Phillip Koopman .

How to write an abstract when you’re an early-career researcher

This post from Ruth Fillery-Travis gives the perspective  of writing an abstract when you’re an early-career researcher .

And this post on the Writing Clear Science blog gives some great pointers on how NOT to write an abstract .

Dee McCurry

Dee helps shape the new features we build at Ex Ordo. She enjoys thinking through customer needs, and loves finding the words that make a complicated process simple. When she’s not bashing on a keyboard, you’ll find her weaving baskets from willow or drinking fancy herbal tea. Sometimes both at once.

Conference software, powered by people who care.

CitizenScience.org Text with stylized logo

Citizen Science Association

How to write a really great presentation abstract, this conference welcomes people with no, or little experience presenting at conferences. whether this is your first abstract submission or you just need a refresher on best practices when writing a conference abstract, these tips are for you..

Note: If you want to present about a project–in the Project Slam or at the Citizen Science Festival–the abstract does not need to include these portions, this is for scholarly presentations. If you are submitting a Project Slam Abstract or are submitting to Table at the Citizen Science Festival, your abstract will be a simple description of your project and why it is interesting. An abstract for a presentation should include most the following sections. Sometimes they will only be a sentence each since abstracts are typically short (250 words):

  • What (i.e. the focus): Clearly explain your idea or question your work addresses (i.e. how to recruit participants in a retirement community, a new perspective on the concept of “participant” in citizen science, a strategy for taking results to local government agencies).
  • Why (i.e., the purpose): Explain why your focus is important (i.e. older people in retirement communities are often left out of citizen science; participants in citizen science are often marginalized as “just” data collectors; taking data to local governments is rarely successful in changing policy, etc.)
  • How (i.e., Methods): Describe how you collected information/data to answer your question. Your methods might be quantitative (producing a number-based result, such as a count of participants before and after your intervention), or qualitative (producing or documenting information that is not metric-based such as surveys or interviews to document opinions, or motivations behind a person’s action) or both.
  • Results: Share your results–the information you collected. What does the data say? (e.g. Retirement community members respond best to in-person workshops; participants described their participation in the following ways, 6 out of 10 attempts to influence a local government resulted in policy changes ).
  • Conclusion: State your conclusion(s) by relating your data to your original question. Discuss the connections between your results and the problem (retirement communities are a wonderful resource for new participants; when we broaden the definition of “participant” the way participants describe their relationship to science changes; involvement of a credentialed scientist increases the likelihood of success of evidence being taken seriously by local governments.). If your project is still ‘in progress’ and you don’t yet have solid conclusions, use this space to discuss what you know at the moment (ie. lessons learned so far, emerging trends, etc).

Here is a sample abstract submitted to a previous conference as an example:

Giving participants feedback about the data they help to collect can be a critical (and sometimes ignored) part of a healthy citizen science cycle. One study on participant motivations in citizen science projects noted “When scientists were not cognizant of providing periodic feedback to their volunteers, volunteers felt peripheral, became demotivated, and tended to forgo future work on those projects” (Rotman et al, 2012). In that same study, the authors indicated that scientists tended to overlook the importance of feedback to volunteers, missing their critical interest in the science and the value to participants when their contributions were recognized. Prioritizing feedback for volunteers adds value to a project, but can be daunting for project staff. This speed talk will cover 3 different kinds of visual feedback that can be utilized to keep participants in-the-loop. We’ll cover strengths and weaknesses of each visualization and point people to tools available on the Web to help create powerful visualizations. References: Rotman, D., Preece, J., Hammock, J., Procita, K., Hansen, D., Parr, C., et al. (2012). Dynamic changes in motivation in collaborative citizen-science projects. the ACM 2012 conference (pp. 217–226). New York, New York, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/2145204.2145238

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