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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Giving conference papers is a crucial part of academic life. It's the prime means of engaging with others in your discipline, getting a face associated with your name and, to use a vile term, networking. However, before you've made it big-time and are being invited to such events, you'll have to respond to calls for papers, or CFPs as they are abbreviated, and this is a bit of an art form.

I am, or have been, involved in the organisation of four conferences and I wanted to share a selection of tips extrapolated from my experience of judging abstracts that might help those applying. So, if you want to ensure that your paper is rejected, here are some pointers!


Pay no attention to the topic

This is the classic. Many conferences have a specific theme but, regardless of this, I've received countless abstracts that bear no relation to the topic of the event. Sometimes it's possible to figure out that there is a link in the proposal, but this isn't good enough. If you want to be accepted, have a strong link to the conference's theme and make it explicit in your proposal.

Use the words "I", "my", "me" and the phrase "my family" as many times as possible

I operate a scoring system in which, after three occurrences, there is an exponential rejection rate in proportion to the usage of these terms. The last one ("my family") is particularly hazardous. We care about the research, not you (sorry!). If it's a case study, it might be ok, but if it's your memoirs: thanks, but no thanks.

Don't put any references

Applications without any references whatsoever smack of arrogance. No paper is an island, so acknowledge your links.

Put in every reference under the sun

At the opposite pole to the above point, this path will also cause problems and raise many questions. If you are constantly referring to others, what is your original take? Will you be able to communicate to an audience? Are you expecting your audience to intimately know your field beforehand? Ultra-dense referencing scares selection panels.

Write badly

When I've just read fifty abstracts, it would have to be a pretty stunning proposal that would persuade me, in spite of my bad temper, that it should be accepted despite its erroneous apostrophes, missing full stops and poor spelling. Don't do this!

Ignore the word limit

Similar to writing badly, it's extremely obvious when the word limit for a proposal is exceeded and it is as equally annoying.

That's about all I can muster for now, but all suggestions for additions welcome!

Featured image by boellstiftung under a CC-BY-SA license.