Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tips on Writing Abstracts and Managing CFPs

Hello again, grad school community! Apologies for the delay in information - we have been busy gathering information for our upcoming Teaching Seminar. Here is part two of our online content from our "Designing Abstracts and Attending Conferences" Workshop. You can also find copies, example Abstracts, and Handouts from this event outside of Rome 751.

Call-For-Papers: How do you begin thinking about Abstracts and Conferences? Finding call-for-papers is an excellent start. This is a good practice to begin even if you feel that you are a few semesters away from attending conferences. Where should you look for good CFPs? We offer you some tips on locating these opportunities -
1) U Penn's CFP Site is an excellent resource with a useful search engine tool. We all highly recommend it because it is updated fairly regularly and has such a wide variety of CFPs available. 
2) Join List-serves. Chances are, if you have already attended a conference or two, you are on a group listserve - these can be immensely helpful in keeping up to date on upcoming CFPs and conference dates. Keeping in touch with people you meet at conferences can be helpful as well - I personally get between 2-3 CFPs a month just from being on  former conference listserves and connecting with people I met at those conferences via social networks. 
3) Consult your Faculty Advisers! Some of our best experiences with conferences were as a result of a recommendation by a trusted faculty member. Many times they are aware of the most interesting/relevant conferences to your particular field or line of criticism. This is also another way to cultivate a relationship with your adviser - a practice EGSA highly recommends!
4) Check your email and our blog! Faculty and other professionals regularly email CFP information to students, including extended deadlines and updated information - so pay attention to your email boxes! You can also look on our blog - where we will attempt regular updates on CFP and conference information

First Experiences: Intimidated by the variety of conferences or attending a large, professional conference as a newbie? Consider some "starter" opportunities to get used to writing abstracts and attending conferences with ease.
1) Graduate Student Conferences - look out for CFPs which are designed for graduate students. These conferences are made up entirely of your peers, and are often closer to home - a time and money saver. Try these out to begin your career of Abstract writing and conferences. 
2) EGSA Symposium - look even closer to home. This spring (2012) EGSA will host a symposium where you will have the opportunity to turn your course work papers into a conference opportunity. Look out for our CFP coming soon.
3) Program Symposiums or Seminars - Many of the programs at GW offer opportunities to participate in symposiums or seminars. Take advantage of these opportunities to share your work with other GW grads and faculty. It may be intimidating, but it is great experience, and it contributes to the academic enrichment of our program. 

Abstract Elements: What belongs in an Abstract? This of course largely depends on the CFP - its requirements for length and the theme of the conference. Many of us urge you to use work that you already have from course work for conferences. Transforming your seminar paper into a conference length presentation can be challenging, but here are some general guidelines for what belongs in the abstract:
Reason for writing:
What is the importance of the research? Why would a reader be interested in the larger work?
What problem does this work attempt to solve? What is the scope of the project? What is the main argument/thesis/claim?
Introduce your source information and any steps in your project.
What are your findings?
How does this work add to the body of knowledge on the topic?

Tips on Writing Abstracts:
Meet the word limitations/range - it is very important to stay within the word count range for any abstract. 
Delete extraneous words, use meaningful language, Avoid defining terms - the idea is to state the parameters of your argument as clearly and concisely as possible. 
Limit the Jargon, Consider your Audience - part of keeping your abstract clear and concise is limiting academic jargon and appealing to a wider audience than a specific professor or class. 
Pay Attention to Key Words - if your CFP asks for key words, consider carefully which words to include because in  this digital age, they are "key" to being able to find your work. They also can contribute to the way in which the conference organizers put together panels. 
It is okay to deviate (a little) from the Abstract - If you are writing an abstract specifically for a conference, and writing a paper to go with it, do not feel like your end result must match up perfectly with the abstract. You will be writing abstracts for papers that don't exist your whole career - it is okay to deviate a little in your expected results (but don't mislead your conference organizers either).
Reverse Outlining or Cut/Paste - If you are using work you already have, try these methods for pulling an abstract out of your completed paper. Using sentences from your paper to create the abstract is useful and time-saving. 
Ask for Peer or Faculty feedback, Revise! The best advice we can give you is to take advantage of your relationships with peers and faculty. They can give you the perspective that you need and want for a successful abstract. 

Thanks for tuning in for our Abstract and CFP online content. If you have additional suggestions or resources to share, please email us or leave a comment below. Check back with us for the final part of this online content as well as upcoming events and professional opportunities. 

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