Submitting to conferences: part 3 – Writing the abstract

Writing an abstract for a conference can be a fine art. The most important thing to consider, is that this is an abstract, not the paper itself, meaning that it is an idea of what will be communicated laid out as succinctly as possible. It is not an artist statement, it is not a theoretical text or graduate thesis, rather it is a statement that should be simple and direct: I am going to do X, Y and Z, here’s how and here’s why. Keep in mind that the review committee does not need to be impressed by your virtuoso writing abilities and lofty ideas, the panel needs to know WHAT you are going to talk about and why they should be interested. If it’s a well-attended conference, the reviewers will be looking at a lot of proposals and don’t have time to deconstruct your ideas. This is much more similar to writing a grant proposal than an artist statement in that you need to write your abstract with as much clarity as possible and with the assumption that the reviewers are intelligent, but not experts in your field.
• Pay attention to the word count – it is meant to be short and sweet.
• Explain only as much as you need to give the reviewers a good idea of what you will present. Start with an outline to help organize your ideas.
• Write with clarity for an intelligent reader unfamiliar with your field – do not make assumptions.
• Start with a positive and compelling statement. Even if your presentation will be critical, find a way of framing it positively.
• Panel abstracts should open with a general overview paragraph – what is the panel theme? And then use your subsequent space to explain what each participant will bring to the theme (space in bios can also be used to help elaborate on this).
• Your bio, if requested, should be tailored to your proposal – what experience do you have that supports what you will be discussing?
• Likewise your work samples, if relevant, should support your abstract. If you mention a particular artwork, provide a slide and note the number in the abstract.
• Consider that your ideas might shift and change during the time between acceptance and presentation. Typically you will be given another opportunity to present a refined abstract for publication in conference materials. Leave your abstract open enough that it allows for this growth.
• Don’t try to do everything, you won’t have time and your presentation will be much more successful if you expand from a tight proposal, rather than throw out every move you have (keep them hungry for more!).
• If you will be presenting your graduate thesis, write an abstract that is a simplified summation (think book jacket eloquence), not an excerpt.
• Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get accepted the first time. A conference is a lot like a group show: the organizers are trying to put together a group of presenters that will be unique, but complementary.

This entry was posted in Being Successful in the Job, Conferences, Networking, Visibility On & Off Campus and tagged , by seszucs. Bookmark the permalink.

About seszucs

Suzanne E. Szucs is an artist, writer and educator living and working in Rochester, MN. A recipient of numerous grants and awards, including an Illinois Arts Council Individual Fellowship and a Minnesota State Arts Board Individual Artist Grant, Szucs has shown her work widely. To see portfolios or link to articles go to: or Szucs has a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and a MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Having taught since 1995, Szucs has held positions at a variety of institutions, from adjunct positions at art schools and community colleges, multi-year positions at two universities and is currently a full-time Instructor of Art, Photography at Rochester Community & Technical College. Her experience includes teaching across the spectrum of photographic practice and history and working with diverse demographics of students at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

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