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This article gives some abstract submission tips for those conference organisers working with scientific programmes.  I explore some of the best practice tips and some of the pitfalls to avoid.

There is no industry standard for abstract submission

I recognise this may be a surprise to some of you, or maybe not to others, but a global standard for abstract submission does not exist.  In fact, a quick “google” of the subject brings up a rather long list of conferences, each with their own slightly different abstract submission guidelines.

The guidelines vary in a number of different ways from major items like length and language to more minor requirements such as when to, or when not to, use italics or bold font or how to attribute references.

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Make guidelines on submission clear

Set your deadlines and be firm.  There’s not much worse than an extended abstract deadline.  This sets a precedent for future events and damages the image of the organiser.  If you like you can always create a “late breaking abstracts” session which I’ve seen to be very popular.

Be very clear on the standards you expect regarding format, spelling and appropriate use of italicisation. If someone submits their abstract using capitalisation throughout will it be rejected?

Also be clear on the deadline by which delegates who have had an abstract approved need to register.  Remember that some delegates require approval (some only for oral presentation) in order to be able to get funding to travel and attend. There’s no getting away from this.

Confirm review process before you decide on software

Plan the review process with your professional conference organiser right at the beginning of your planning process. This will allow your PCO to find suitable software that meets your requirement – one hat doesn’t fit all and some programmes are more sophisticated (and therefore generally more expensive) than others.

Decide on both your scoring process and standards, themes and the number of reviewers that are required for each abstract.

Your aim should be to automate the process as much as possible.  Remember that your reviewers are volunteers and their time should be used sparingly.  With this in mind do not export the data from the system to work on it offline, it is not necessary and creates an unnecessary burden to programme staff.

Spread the workload

Recruit a strong and experienced review panel to help assess the abstracts.  Spread the work amongst as many people as you can in order to get it complete, and give yourself twice as much time as you thing you will need.

You may wish to recruit a  “junior tier” of reviewers who look just at the format, asking authors to resubmit with corrections prior to the “senior tier” review.  You could use your PCO for this or use a panel of students.  Either way, be clear with your reviewers when it comes to the difference between acceptable and non-acceptable standards (for example see note above regarding capitalisation).

Never change an abstract yourself

An abstract is the snapshot of someone elses work and belongs to them, or their team.  If during the review process you find the abstract needs editing this must be fed back to the author for them to make the amends.  Apart from the odd spelling mistake or font standardisation you do not have the right to edit it and, if possible, disable this option from your reviewers.

By Rob Eveleigh, First published 4th July 2018

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