Writing a Conference Proposal

By Louisa Hill

About the author

Louisa Hill is a Senior Teaching Fellow and delivers workshops for Postgraduate researchers who want to teach.

When applying to present research at a conference, applicants need to complete a proposal that outlines their research findings and its implications.

Having always had proposals accepted and supported colleagues to do the same, here is my advice on how to write a successful conference proposal as a means of publishing research at a local, national or international conference.

Conference Theme

The conference that you are applying to will have a number of themes or suggested topics. You need to ensure that your research or a component of your research fits within at least one of these themes.

Requirements

Conference organisers will give you a deadline for which to submit your proposal, therefore it is important that you organise your time accordingly in order to meet this. You may want to factor in time for a critical friend, such as an experienced colleague or research supervisor, to look at your draft.

In some cases the conference organisers may provide you with a template in which to write your proposals. This may also include a preference of how you wish to present your research such as through a talk, panel discussion, poster, workshop or pecha kucha (fast-paced and concise presentations using 20 slides, each shown for only 20 seconds).

Some of the factors that help you choose your method depend on the depth and breadth of your research as well as your confidence in being able to discuss your research. For example, if you have done some very small scale research, then you could do a poster. Alternatively, if you have completed a comprehensive literature review, then you should consider doing a talk.

Capturing Interest

I have found that a creative title seems to help in terms of making the proposal unique and more memorable. It still needs to clarify your topic, but could also be a play on words or a phrase.

Depending on the research subject and the conference themes, you may wish to include in your proposal some reference to participants and how the information gained from them will be presented. This could include having a research participant co-deliver with you either in person or virtually, a video or audio clip involving participants or anonymised excerpts of transcripts or data. Basically anything more innovative will entice delegates to attend, rather than having to suffer ‘death by powerpoint’.

Content

There are three key parts to a proposal, each of which comprise about one third of the total word count.

Part One

Introduce your research topic to conference delegates. Consider who the delegates may be and why they would be interested in your research. If it is a subject specific conference rather than a multidisciplinary one, avoid providing them with general information about the overall subject, as they will already be aware of this. Contextualise the research to illustrate how it fits within the particular subject field.

Part Two

You should then clarify why the research is important, innovative or original, as well as go into more detail. You may also wish to mention how you gathered the research.

Part Three

The conclusion should encompass pointers on the keys ways in which the research is useful to delegates.

Other content points to consider:

  • Avoid jargon if your audience is not made up of subject specialists in your area
  • Be as succinct as possible
  • Look back at your abstract and extract the main points
  • Look at previous conference proposals and abstracts, if they’re available, for inspiration (although be aware that the conference themes will have changed)

Using Literature

Restrict the number of references to around four, and if possible use an up-to-date source, perhaps from a policy or practice paper which relates to your research. There is no need to include a bibliography unless specifically stated.

Housekeeping

It may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget to check spelling and grammar after you have compiled your proposal.

The conference providers may ask in the proposal template if you need any equipment, in which case ask for everything that you may possibly need (such as flipcharts and marker pens), even if in the end you do not use it.


Conference providers are looking for proposals that: meet the requirements of that particular conference, can demonstrate useful research and are articulated well to delegates. So the better your conference proposal, the higher the chance of it being accepted.

Wishing you the best of luck.

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