How to Write an Academic Conference Paper
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Writing an academic conference paper for your chosen conference can be daunting at first. However, it is a must if you want to be successful in academia. Presenting academic research at conferences is a large part of professional development and is a great place for professional networking. It is also a wonderful opportunity to receive direction, feedback and encouragement from knowledgeable scholars in your discipline.
Audience and Context
As you begin preparation, consider your future audience and the disciplinary concerns of the conference. If you are presenting a paper on a topic that your audience may not be familiar with, think about putting some foundational background information in your paper before you get too focused. Adding context or a summary of previous research may be helpful tactics. Look back at the call for papers and ask yourself both what the concerns of the conference are, as well as the concerns of your field. Being able to contextualize your research within the larger disciplinary field is essential for a successful conference paper.
Length and Structure
Conference papers are typically around 20 minutes long, which is approximately 10 pages double-spaced and 24,000 words. The structure usually involves around six paragraphs--an introduction, conclusion, and five body paragraphs. The introduction should define key terms, situate the paper's topic within the context of your discipline and the conference and introduce your argument sequence. Each of your body paragraphs should transition into the next in a logical sequence. Your conclusion should be clearly stated, and be followed by a revisitation of your main points. Try to leave the audience with a clear "take-away" message. (1)
Because academic conference papers are presented orally, the style of the paper must be different from one that is written and read on paper. With an oral presentation, getting and maintaining audience attention is key, no matter what the topic is. Use cues such as pronouns and asking questions to keep the audience's attention. These cues include phrases such as "Let's continue on to...," or "here we see..." or even "What does this imply?" (1) Make sure that almost every sentence does not exceed one line in length, and cut down complex sentences into more declarative ones. (2)
Presentation and Audio-Visual Aids
Audio or visual aids are a common element academic conference presentations, although the distraction may not be perfect for you. If you are using an audiovisual tool such as a Powerpoint, remember that your slides complement your paper rather than act as the paper itself. They should reinforce key points and focus attention on the content. You should not read straight from the slides. Handouts are also a helpful tool to focus attention on the content. (3) Practice reading your paper out loud multiple times for flow and timing. (2) During the presentation itself, remember to make eye contact with your audience, pause occasionally, look up and take deep breaths. (3)
- See if you recognize anyone in the audience before speaking. This is particularly useful during the question-and-answer period when you may have to field questions from experts in your field, even those you cite in your presentation.
- Use the paper as a chance to network. Even a piece of work in its early stages can be an opportunity to ask established scholars for advice.
- Avoid excusing partial or unfinished work because it is part of a longer article project. Your audience will see through this and, even if it is true, will wonder why you did not prepare a more polished presentation.
Craig Brewer, a graduate of the University of Texas, has been a freelance writer for 12 years, while also working as a software engineer and video game tester. He has published articles in a number of regional magazines, as well as all over the internet.