Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Writing a conference abstract

e n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte. Translation: I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time. -Blaise Pascal
Pascal had it right! It's much harder to write efficiently than to write. Anyone who has tried to get a lot of ideas into a constrained page count knows the issue.

In the public sector, where answering an RFP is something everyone gets into one time or another, the proposal instructions are the Bible, and the page count is law.

Bill Nichols has a suscint presentation about how to write an abstract for a conference presentation. I have done a lot of these myself so I can attest to the worthyness of Bill's suggestions. Abstracts, like proposals, are a sales tool; like proposals, they're often page limited, or word limited, or some such.

So being efficient and suscint is hugely important. I always say: follow the directions and give no excuse for disqualification. Make it easy for them to pick you!

Here's the essence of Bill's ideas
 At a minimum, answer the questions that correspond to these four sections.
  • Background: Why did you do this?
  • Approach: What did you do?
  • Findings: What did you learn or discover?
  • Conclusion: What does it mean?
Here are some questions to consider when you’re drafting your abstract.
Background (Why did you do this?)
  • What is the problem you are addressing?
  • How are things done today?
  • What is the difficulty and why?
  • Why has this problem not been solved before?
  • What did you expect or what is the hypothesis?
Approach (What did you do?)
  • What kind of data did you collect and how did you collect it?
  • How did you assess the data?
  • Who were the subjects? How many?
  • Is this a case study? An experience report? A pilot? Did you set up experiments?
Findings or Results (What did you learn?)
  • Did a new technique or approach work or not?
  • What new information or data is provided?
  • What was confirmed or refuted?
  • Were there surprises?
Conclusion (What does this mean?)
  • What can we now do differently or that we couldn’t do before?
  • Who will be affected by these results? Does this apply to team members? Team leads? Coaches? Other stakeholders?
  • Will something be cheaper, faster, or better?
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