How to Write an Engaging Conference Paper

, Staff Writer
Updated May 31, 2013
speaker talking at conference
    speaker talking at conference
    monkeybusinessimages / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Knowing how to write a conference paper means understanding the paper’s purpose and format. Most academic conferences publish either the abstracts of the papers presented at the conference or a copy of the full papers presented. These papers can be a great way to communicate, document new ideas and introduce your academic work to a wider audience of your peers.

What Is a Conference Paper?

A conference paper is a written document that outlines your oral presentation at a conference. These papers cover the details of the presentations for attendees to review in situations when the attendee was not able to hear the oral presentation.

In cases where the papers are generated after the conference, the questions obtained during the presentation can give specific direction on the points that were of interest at the conference and will probably be of most interest to a reader.


Start With a Strong Abstract

In many cases, you’ll need to present the abstract for your paper before it is accepted for the conference. This can be challenging because you may not have written the paper itself, but there are some important reasons to prepare the abstract prior to the conference.

  • In presenting your results, you will be making conclusions, and writing an abstract is perhaps the most important part of the conference paper that you prepare because it lets people know what you used to get to those conclusions.
  • The abstract provides the organizers with a brief overview of your topic and a summary of your results. Organizers use the abstract to categorize the paper and group it with similar topics or areas of work.
  • An abstract offers attendees a summary of what will be presented during a specific period of time in the preliminary schedule so that they can make the best use of their time during the conference.
  • Submitting an abstract also provides presenters with a way to review the abstracts of all the papers in the section your paper is assigned. This lets them address questions of how you performed your work and of which of the other presenters' methods would also work in obtaining your goal.

Remember to include the motivation for the work in your abstract. Define the problem being examined and the approach that will be used during the work described. Then, proceed to report the results and present your conclusions.


Understanding the Conference Paper Format

The organization of your conference paper should flow in a logical sequence from experimental design to conclusions. Put significant thought into fully evaluating the results and conclusions and reporting them at the conference proceedings or in a professional journal that is associated with the conference and the presentations.

In general, you can use a basic research paper format for your conference paper, but there is flexibility. At minimum, it should include the following.

  • an introduction that clearly states your intentions for the paper and your research
  • plenty of data to support your claim
  • a clear conclusion
  • good references for the research and data you used

Conference Paper Length

Many conference papers are too long. Consider how long you will be speaking. Many people speak for 10 to 20 minutes at a conference. If it takes two minutes to read one double-spaced page, this means your paper should be no more than five to 10 pages long.

Conference-Specific Formats

Always check with the conference to which you are submitting your work. They may have specific requirements for the format of the paper and abstract, including margin size, whether to use page numbers and other details. They may also have a page limit.

How to Write a Conference Paper Step by Step

Every conference paper is unique since the research it presents should be unique as well. However, this basic process for how to write a conference paper will help you create a working draft.


1. Be Clear About Your Intentions

Before you begin writing the conference paper, make sure you know what you are hoping to communicate. What is the key element of your research? What is your thesis statement? Everything else you write will need to support this purpose statement.

2. Know Your Audience

The key to making your conference paper engaging is tailoring it to your audience. You need to know your audience well in order to do this. Ask yourself a few questions about them.

  • Will you be presenting to your peers? What do the listeners already know about this topic?
  • What are the concerns of the audience or the field in general?
  • Are there specific topics that are relevant, important and related to the research you are doing?

Take a few minutes to jot down some notes about your audience. Connecting your research to the concerns and needs of the audience will help keep them engaged.


3. Make an Outline From Your Oral Presentation

Generate the outline of your paper while you are preparing the oral presentation. Making an outline at this point will do two important things.

  • It will help you to organize your thoughts for the oral presentation.
  • It will serve as a great place to revise the paper based on questions brought up at the end of the conference.

4. Write the Introduction

Write an introduction that will capture the reader’s interest, especially if they have not listened to your oral presentation. Within the first paragraph, tell the reader what you intend to share or prove. It’s essential that you are clear about this up front.

5. Expand on the Oral Presentation

From the outline, begin writing your first draft. As you write, include a more detailed description of the actual work that was done. These details are often minimized during an oral presentation but should be fully detailed in the actual paper reporting the results.

Additionally, you need to support your claims with data in your conference paper. These supporting details will add strength to your argument and keep the reader engaged in the work.


6. Give Your Results and Conclusion

The results portion of your paper will be much the same as the content of the oral presentation. Include the results of your research with enough detail to interest the audience and prove your point. When writing a conclusion, you should also comment on the direction of future and follow-up work.

The focus of your paper should be limited to the work presented during the conference. Do not include any work done since the conference, as this will blur the line between the work presented at the conference and follow-up work that continues to develop.

7. Include References

Include all the resources that you used as reference sources and those that cite results for the problem you are investigating. The more complete the references, the better your paper will be received. It will show that you have a good grasp of the field and that your work is original and novel.


8. Read Your Conference Paper Aloud

Try reading the paper aloud to find areas that are awkward or that seem to drag. See where you can cut extraneous text. Remember, it will alienate your audience if you go over time in your presentation, and too much meandering will cause them to lose interest.

If you’ll be reading directly from the paper during your oral presentation, shorten the sentences and add in-text prompts for yourself to look up and ensure you have the audience’s interest.

Present Your Work Professionally

Knowing how to write conference papers should help you present your work in a professional manner, and it may even help you with your oral presentation. Review tips on academic writing to give yourself an added edge.