It’s AIC abstract season! If you’re thinking about submitting for the 2016 meeting and are struggling with your abstract, here are a few unsolicited tips. These are based on reviewing a lot of abstracts in recent years, as I’ve served as a chair and co-chair for conference sessions at our annual meeting.
1) Structure the abstract in a logical way.
- The first sentence should be a mini-abstract, an introductory statement that sums up the content of the paper. This paper will describe a newly-developed, sustainable protocol for mitigating vampire bat damage to the painted grottoes beneath Dracula’s castle.
- Continue with a brief description of the project, including its context and goals.
- Finish by summarizing what your paper will cover, e.g. research results, two case studies, the protocol you developed, etc.
2) Write the abstract well.
- Use active, descriptive language and clear syntax.
- Edit and proofread! This important step is best done by others. I recommend two to three readers: someone who knows the project well (did you leave anything out?), someone who is not familiar with the project (does your abstract make sense?), and someone who is a good copy editor (are there errors of grammar, punctuation, or syntax?).
- Finally, give your paper a good title. A cute title can be fun, but will work against you if it’s difficult to understand. Your title should give the reader (and potential audience members) a clear idea of what the paper contains. “A New Protocol for Mitigating Vampire Bat Damage” is better than “Vampire Bats Suck.” If you love your funny title, add clarity by following it with a colon and a clause that explains it.
3) Follow the instructions in the “Call for Papers.”
- If the call identifies specific themes, explicitly demonstrate how your work relates to them.
- Stick to the word limit.
- Follow the submission instructions.
4) Choose your submission order carefully and submit on time. AIC allows authors to submit to three sessions, ranked in order of priority. If you authored the vampire bat paper, you might submit to the General Session, ASG, Collections Care, PSG, or Sustainability. You want to be strategic in your session choices.
- Your first choice should be the group that will benefit the most from learning about your work. Even if this is a smaller or more specialized group, these are the people who need and want to hear your talk, and this is the session that will be most likely to accept the paper.
- Only submit to the General Session first if your project truly fits that call for papers.
- On-time submission gives you an advantage, because committees begin reading and building programs as soon as the deadline hits.
A few words about the review process: Submission strategy matters because abstracts are reviewed in order of the author’s session choices. If you select ASG as the first choice for presentation of your Dracula grottoes paper, the ASG program committee will read your abstract in the first round of review. If ASG rejects it in the first round, it will be sent to your second choice session for consideration. Your second choice session cannot consider it until the first one releases it.
The General Session receives the most abstracts by far. Consequently, review takes longer for this committee. If your abstract is submitted with the General Session as a first choice, be aware that it might not be released until after other session programs are already full. Although your abstract will be considered by each session committee in turn, the reality is that once a full complement of talks has been chosen for a session, it’s difficult to add and subtract papers. This is why I recommend the General Session as a first choice ONLY if your project truly fits that call for papers.