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Writing Conference Abstracts
Notes for LG554 by Peter L. Patrick
Writing abstracts for conferences is an important art for academic linguists to master. It is not only a key job skill for the professional, but a knowledge of how they are written and read can help in your reading of the literature as a student. The job of conference abstracts is to inform organizers of your work that is either completed or currently developing, so that they can judge its intrinsic interest and likely quality against the others submitted. It is a competitive process, but one to be undertaken seriously. It projects the future (your ultimate findings; the full conference paper), and must do so convincingly and responsibly.
Conference abstracts are different in nature from several related forms: summary abstracts of completed work for publication (e.g. of dissertations, or of published articles); and projections of research to be done (often required in applications for funds, permission or resources). The different audiences and purposes must be kept in mind. In most cases, all such descriptions of research must be very short, kept to a strict length limit, and must represent the final product fairly and attractively.
Below are several examples of detailed instructions for conference abstract writing taken from organizations which sponsor important lingustics conferences. (This is the most relevant variety for you to learn, as the other type arise later in one's career!) Check their websites for further details. Many major conferences nowadays have online collections of abstracts, which are excellent sources of examples and also good ways to get the flavor of particular conferences, and (sub-)fields of study. A few relevant to the traditions this course draws on are listed on my Links page.
Directions from the LSA
The following is extracted from the LSA (Linguistic Society of America)'s call for papers (Winter 2000 conference; accessed from http://www.lsadc.org/2004annmeet/guidelines.pdf on 24 October 2000. It's one perspective on how to write abstracts for a general linguistics conference. Details of submission and address etc. are left out here, but see the source.
Program Committee Guidelines And Abstract Specifications
When mailing abstracts, allow sufficient time for delivery delays... All abstracts must arrive by the deadline. Late abstracts will not be considered, whatever the reason for the delay.
The four categories of presentations are: organized sessions, 30-minute papers, 15-min. papers, and poster sessions. Abstracts of poster presentations, papers and descriptions of organized sessions will be reviewed with the most stringent criteria being applied to the longer presentations. The Program Committee will, of course, require that the subject matter be linguistic, that the papers not be submitted with malicious or scurrilous intent, and that the abstract be coherent and in accord with published specifications. ... When the Program Committee meets, members discuss and judge each abstract on the basis of their collective knowledge and, when appropriate, on reports from consultants. Then, they arrange each session, assemble the final program, and select session chairs.
5. Papers must be delivered as projected in the abstract or represent bona fide developments of the same research.
6. Handouts, if any, are not to be submitted with abstracts, but should be available at the meeting for those listening to the paper.
Abstract Format Guidelines
Many abstracts are rejected because they omit crucial information rather than because of errors in what they include. Authors may wish to consult the model abstract prepared by the Program Committee... (see online example, in both 'good' and 'bad' versions, at http://www.lsadc.org/2004annmeet/guidelines.pdf.). A suggested outline for abstracts is as follows:
Depending on subject and/or content, it may be more appropriate to submit an abstract to the poster session for visual presentation rather than to the15- or 30-minute session. In general, the sorts of papers which are most effective as posters are those in which the major conclusions become evident from the thoughtful examination of charts and graphs, rather than those which require the audience to follow a sustained chain of verbal argumentation. Therefore, authors will want to make points in narrative form as brief as possible. The poster paper is able to "stand alone," that is, be understandable even if the author is not present, and does not require audiovisual support.
(Posters are another topic we'll discuss in class)
Directions from the LAGB
The following is extracted from the LAGB (Linguistics Association of Great Britain)'s call for papers (regularly updated; currently http://www.essex.ac.uk/linguistics/LAGB/Autumn03/1.html, accessed on 19 Nov 2003). It's one perspective on how to write abstracts for a general linguistics conference. Details of submission and address etc. are left out here, but see the source.
Call for Papers
Members are invited to offer papers for the Meeting; abstracts are also accepted from non-members. The LAGB welcomes submissions on any topic in the field of linguistics; papers are selected on their (perceived) merits, and not according to their subject matter or assumed theoretical framework.
How and when to submit an abstract
Format of abstracts
...Papers for the programme are selected anonymously... Abstracts must be presented as follows: The complete abstract (i.e. the one containing your title and your name) must be no longer than ONE A4 page (21cm x 29.5cm) with margins of at least 2.5cm on all sides. You may use single spacing but type must be no smaller than 12 point. If the paper is accepted the abstract will be photocopied and inserted directly into the collection of abstracts sent out to participants, so the presentation should be clear and clean. It is extremely important that the length limit should not be exceeded. Submitting overlong abstracts is unfair to other prospective speakers, and the committee will not accept them. The following layout should be considered as standard:
(title) Optimality and the Klingon vowel shift
(speaker) Clark Kent (email@example.com)
(institution) Department of Astrology, Eastern Mars University
The normal length for papers delivered at LAGB meetings is 25 mins. (plus 15 mins. discussion)...
Content of abstracts
The following guidelines may be useful:
Last updated 19 November 2003