Research hacks #14: 15 tips on planning and writing a conference paper

Judging by their behaviour, people seem to approach to the prospect of giving a conference paper wildly divergent ways. Watching some poor souls present, it looks for all the world as if they consider a conference paper to be the modern-day answer to trial by ordeal. Others seem to be approaching the exercise as a gladiatorial duel, the main purpose of which is to attack and repel all adversaries with obnoxious ferocity, forcing them into submission by fair means or foul. Still others seem to have little interest in their own paper, while some give the impression of having downed a few gallons of Red Bull directly prior to speaking.

I claim no particular distinction for my own presentations but I have observed a fair few over the years, both good and not so good. In this post I begin to distil some paper-delivering ‘best practice’ and combine it with other advice I have gleaned over time.

Planning and writing the paper

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      • Don’t try to say too much. In most cases try to say one thing well, even if you say it in different ways. Have a main point. A conference paper doesn’t give you long enough to develop an octopus-like argument with arms going in all directions. Have one main argument, and stick to it. Only bring in other ideas, however brilliant they are, if they support your main point.
      • Hit your main point at the very beginning of the paper, sprinkle references to it in the paper’s body, and return to it at the very end. This way, it’s fresh in people’s minds when the question time starts, and people whose attention has drifted will still go away with your main point in their heads. Read more on >>