Writing a Conference Abstract: Key Components
Here are some pointers on writing the key components of a conference abstract.
Including a clear title
The title will also be the title of the paper itself, and is likely to be used in promotional materials and the conference programme if your paper is accepted. So, make sure it clearly communicates the gist and aim of your presentation. Unless the conference is on a highly specialised and niche topic, it is best to avoid using jargon, acronyms and highly technical language in the title.
Providing a brief background
Generally, good abstracts begin with a brief overview of the background and/or context of the paper. This could comprise, for example, a few lines about the prominent arguments or findings in this field, recent developments around this topic or the main problem that you are setting out to address. Setting this context is important for establishing why your topic is important and why this paper will be a significant contribution: to the conference, your discipline and potentially society at large.
Presenting the main argument
The bulk of the abstract will present your main argument or ideas. Remember that the abstract is a summary of what this conference paper will be about. So, do not spend too many words discussing the background or broader research conducted by yourself or others.
Tip: It is very helpful at this point to refer back to the call for papers and conference details. Look for any specific questions or issues they hope to address in this conference. Your abstract should indicate how this paper will answer these questions or broaden discussion around these issues.
As you construct this main part of the abstract, use these following questions and pointers as a guide:
Exactly what are you trying to say or argue in this paper? Keep it simple and clear. Remember, you should have no more than one or two main ideas.
What questions or challenges to the field are you trying to raise with this paper?
If you are far enough in your research, what analysis, findings and conclusions are you able to share? If you are at the early stages of your research, discuss instead your working hypothesis and research questions, or what potential findings you hope to obtain.
What are the implications, significance and impact of these findings?
Referencing the methods
Where relevant, you might briefly reference your methods/methodological approaches, just to contextualise your research and illustrate exactly what you are doing and how. However, you do not need to go into extensive detail unless the principal focus of your paper and/or the conference is on methodology.
Underlining your research with the conclusion
Conclude your abstract by summing up your paper in a few lines. You might reiterate what this paper or argument adds to the field, and why this contribution is important or interesting. If you do not yet have clear results or conclusions, you could end by raising the questions or considerations that still need to be considered as you, or others in your field, move forward with this research. Think of this as piquing interest in further study, thereby emphasising the importance and relevance of your research.
Read previous/first in series: Preparing a Conference Abstract: Criteria and Tips
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