I’ve planned and organized over 87 international academic conferences and workshops during my 25+ years of experience as a professional conference organizer. During this time, I’ve learned the crucial steps of planning and managing the submission process for abstracts and full papers.
I am writing this blog post at the suggestion of academicians who are members of a scientific committee organizing their 35th international academic conference. They were unaware of the current state of conference management software and how easily it can manage the scientific part of an academic conference, eliminating most gaps through the automated process. They were spending valuable time and effort to create error-free conference programs and books of abstracts.
I apologize for the length of this article and for taking up your time. I’ll dive into the details as suggested by the scientific committee’s academicians.
Before diving in, I want to take a moment to inform you that we have developed Meetinghand Abstract Submission Management Solution to address most challenges facing academic conference planners. So, if you wish to learn more about Meetinghand, please BOOK A PRIVATE DEMO with us..
Before setting up the conference submission form and starting to collect abstracts, I always consider the following issues;
- How to encourage authors to submit their works easily?
- How to manage the evaluation process easily?
- How to notify authors?
- How to keep the abstracts updated from start to finish?
- How to add the abstracts to the conference agenda easily?
- How to prepare an error-free book of abstracts and keep it up to date?
- As well as, how to check the authors' registration status?
I will try to proceed through questions in a manner similar to "five Ws and one H" for a better convey of the important points and not clash with the inquisitive nature of academic readers.
Please keep in mind that I will approach the subject from a broader perspective using the term “conference” to include most types of academic events such as congresses, workshops, seminars, symposia, and training courses.
You can create your custom checklist to suit your exact needs, and even email me for help or suggestions, as each event may be unique.
As a general rule, I always consider;
- The next step, without forgetting that our end goal is always to go forward, without getting lost in the maze.
- What encourages authors to submit their works?
- How can authors submit their papers more easily?
Here are the questions that I bring to the table of the scientific committee and the conference organizers, as well as my suggestions.
What are the main objectives and considerations for organizing a conference and managing its scientific framework?
What are the main objectives you aim to achieve for the conference?
Various goals can be pursued, such as creating a scientifically high-quality conference program, gathering numerous abstracts, attracting a high number of participants, collecting full papers, and publishing proceedings.
However, achieving all these goals may not be easy. Therefore, it’s crucial to clarify the most important (final) goal of collecting abstracts, as it will shape the approach moving forward.
Are you planning to publish conference proceedings?
Some conferences publish proceedings in formats such as conference books, special journal issues, books of full papers, or extended abstracts. Publishing conference proceedings is recommended if previous conferences have done so, as attendees might expect it. However, this requires significant effort and in-depth review and may include detailed methodologies, analysis, results, and discussion of the presented research. If it is necessary, consider publishing it as a special issue of a scientific journal through a win-win partnership, as they usually have greater experience in this field.
What information will you include in the call for abstracts?
It is recommended to keep the email announcement message concise, containing only a brief overview of the conference theme, a link to the conference webpage, social and academic benefits of attending, logos of organizer and supporter institutions, and using friendly language.
On the conference webpage, expand the information by adding important dates, scientific topics, presentation types, submission, evaluation, and notification processes clearly, and a brief note about the abstract format, such as word limits.
Will you ask the invited speakers to submit an abstract?
It is suggested to gather abstracts from invited speakers and include them in the book of abstracts to increase their perceived value. Invited speakers play a key role in attracting attendees, enhancing visibility, and increasing the conference’s impact.
What deadlines should you set for abstract submission?
When determining the abstract submission deadlines, consider the conference dates, the time required for authors to prepare their abstracts, and the time needed to create and announce the conference program.
Generally, conference planners declare the following deadlines:
- Abstract submission start date,
- Abstract submission deadline,
- Evaluation results announcement date,
- Author registration and payment deadline.
It's important to note that organizers may have a tendency to prolong the deadlines as participants often anticipate it. Allowing a longer submission period for poster presentations can be beneficial since they are generally easier to manage and schedule within the conference program.
What presentation types should you consider?
Oral and poster presentations are the basic presentation types. Workshops, panel sessions, roundtable discussions, and research forums are some of the popular types. However, virtual presentations gained popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic due to their cost-saving advantages.
Dr. Arber suggests including PechaKucha as a presentation format, bridging the gap between traditional poster and oral presentation formats. This format likely appeals to younger generations and early career researchers, as it aligns with modern technology and fast-paced communication styles.
Additionally, offering a "Poster, if not Oral" option provides flexibility when constructing the conference agenda and helps satisfy authors’ preferences.
How many abstracts should each author be allowed to submit?
Assessing the conference program to determine how many presentation slots are available and how many abstracts have been received at previous conferences is important to define the submission limits for each participant.
Conference planners commonly accept more abstracts than available slots for various reasons, such as:
- Approximately 25% of the accepted abstracts may not pay the registration fee or might withdraw later due to different reasons. The deadline for author payments is crucial in this regard.
- Adding parallel rooms or reducing the oral presentation time from 20 minutes to 15 minutes can result in a 25% increase in presentation capacity.
But no need to worry. Because usually many creative and practical solutions will emerge to address the issue of having more submissions and participants than anticipated.
How to build and structure an abstract form? Step-by-step checklist
Should you collect abstracts in a single format?
Considering the scientific scope of the conference and the potential attendees, it is important to ensure the abstract submission format and requirements match the expertise level of the participants. It may be necessary to collect submissions in different formats and provide scientific abstract examples. However, if the conference and attendees are not dealing with specialized technical or niche subjects, it is highly recommended to use a single abstract format and keep it as simple as possible.
Will you collect the abstracts in text or file format?
It is generally recommended to gather abstracts in text format and full papers in file formats. Collecting abstracts as text can save time and effort by enabling an automated process for:
- Styling the content, such as font type, font size, and the use of uppercase or lowercase letters.
- Applying required submission rules, such as word limits, title length, affiliations, and keywords.
- Allowing authors to make necessary updates.
- Helping organizers and reviewers track the abstract updates and versions easily.
- Keeping the conference agenda updated.
- Simplifying the abstract submission process for authors.
- Exporting abstracts and content of the book of abstracts error-free.
- Avoiding common mistakes made by authors.
- Standardizing the appearance of abstracts with formatting rules.
- Making the review process easier and more effective.
- Implementing a 'what you see is what you get' approach for authors, reviewers, and organizers.
- Notifying authors personally and delivering acceptance letters and documents.
To emphasize the importance of the abstract submission format, consider this analogy: Collecting abstracts as text (instead of files) is similar to using an abstract management platform (instead of email), which significantly reduces manual work and errors.
Should you provide a guideline for abstract formatting?
Providing authors with a concise guideline will inform them about the appearance and content of the abstract, including aspects like scope, methodology, and length.
However, it is often unnecessary to provide an abstract template for the abstract format, as abstract submission forms not only guide and demonstrate the expected format but also ensure that authors meet the abstract requirements.
Do you require submitters to select scientific topics of the conference?
Asking authors to choose a relevant scientific topic can help organizers efficiently assign each submission to the appropriate reviewer and session in the conference program. Additionally, setting up an "other" topic option can help you in identifying abstracts that may not align with the scope of the scientific conference, offering insights into potential subjects for future conferences.
What information should be requested from the authors in the abstract submission form?
The abstract submission form is an online tool used by conference organizers to collect abstracts from potential presenters or participants. It is essential to keep the abstract submission form simple and straightforward, focusing on collecting the required information and formatting the abstract correctly.
Key pieces of information to request include:
- The scientific topic related to the abstract,
- The preferred presentation type (e.g., oral, poster, PechaKucha, poster if not oral, etc.),
- The abstract title,
- The authors of the abstract, including their affiliations, presenter and corresponding authors, and author order,
- The abstract content, including minimum and maximum word limits, options for adding figures and tables, and other relevant details,
- Keywords describing the abstract content,
- References cited in the abstract,
From a different perspective, consider gathering additional information alongside the abstract. This data can help determine the conference program session placement and select an appropriate reviewer for evaluation.
Using a powerful and flexible abstract submission form that enables effective information collection and management is crucial, as well as converting and publishing the information in a standardized, searchable, linkable, and well-organized book of abstracts.
What author information should you request in the abstract submission form?
It is typically recommended to ask for the author’s name, surname, and affiliation. The affiliation basically includes institution, department, city, and country. You may also collect the contact information of the abstract’s authors to reach out to them and invite them to participate. Incorporating these small actions can help improve the overall experience for conference organizers and attendees.
What additional questions related to the abstract's presenter you may ask?
Gathering extra information about the abstract's presenter may simplify the management process. Here are some potential questions to consider:
- Would you like to participate in the poster competition?
- Would you like your abstract to be included in the book of abstracts?
- Are you willing to serve as a reviewer for other abstracts in your area of expertise?
- Do you require any special equipment for your presentation?
How long should the abstracts be?
It is recommended to set a minimum of 200 words and a maximum of 1000 words limit for the length of abstracts. This range allows for effective evaluation of the abstract by reviewers and organizers. Additionally, this length is suitable for placing each abstract on a single page, which facilitates easy export or conversion of collected abstract submissions into a well-designed book of abstracts.
What are common mistakes authors make in abstract submissions, and how can you address them?
There are several common mistakes that authors make while submitting their abstracts, which was the main motivation of development MeetingHand abstract management solution. These common mistakes can be addressed by implementing specific strategies in the abstract submission form:
- Authors often neglect reading instructions for abstract submissions. To prevent this, set rules within the submission form to ensure abstracts are submitted in the desired format.
- Including too much or too less detail is another common mistake. Setting up minimum and maximum length limits can help resolve this issue.
- Many authors use copy-paste method to submit their abstracts without thoroughly checking them. Implementing a review process, such as "What you see is what you get," can mostly solve this issue.
- Authors may not spend enough time writing the affiliations of other authors. Collecting affiliations in multiple fields and allowing authors to edit them until the evaluation process begins can help to address this issue.
- Authors can make mistakes related to a lack of attention to detail, such as typos and grammatical errors. Implementing a review process can help minimize these errors.
- Some authors may not cover the specific requirements of the abstract's content. Collecting the abstract's content in multiple text fields, such as introduction, methods, findings, and conclusion, can help ensure that all necessary information is included.
How to notify an abstract’s author? Step-by-step checklist
Who should make the final acceptance or rejection decision, and how should they approach it?
The final decision on whether to accept or reject an abstract should be made by the chair of the conference or the scientific committee. When making the decision, consider the following steps:
- Begin with an overall evaluation to determine how many acceptable abstracts have been received in each presentation category.
- Identify the number of available slots for oral presentations, taking into account opening and closing sessions, plenary and invited talks, panels, and other presentation types.
- Create a conference program that considers session content, which may require combining related scientific topics.
- Review the recommendations from reviewers carefully, paying attention to their comments and the overall quality of the abstracts. Asking reviewers to evaluate using an "accepted, conditionally accepted, rejected" methodology will simplify the decision-making process.
- Consider the authors and their registration status before making the final decision.
Checking the registration status of the abstract's presenting author will help build a well-fitted conference program.
Keep in mind that there are only three options during the decision stage: Accepted, Conditionally Accepted, and Rejected.
How should you notify authors of their abstract's acceptance or rejection status?
Manually notifying authors about their abstract's acceptance or rejection status can be time-consuming and challenging, especially when personalizing acceptance letters with names, abstract titles, presentation types, and more.
Using an abstract management software solution, like MeetingHand, can simplify this process. It allows you to easily personalize acceptance messages by editing the content and adding abstract names, presentation types, and other relevant information. Additionally, you can track notifications about their delivery, open, and download rates or status.
It is recommended to choose an abstract management platform that enables authors to log in, track the evaluation process of their abstracts, receive requests from reviewers, and make updates when necessary.
When should you notify the authors about the abstract review results?
The notification timeline depends on the completion of the evaluation process. It's important to notify authors at least by the declared deadline. To ensure timely notifications, it's advisable to start the evaluation process early, rather than waiting for the submission deadline, especially considering that reviewers often work on a volunteer basis.
Furthermore, it's not mandatory to wait until the declared notification date to inform authors personally, especially if the number of submitted abstracts does not significantly exceed the available presentation slots.
Notifying authors early will help them plan and arrange to finance their attendance more effectively.
What should you do with canceled, unpaid, or un-presented abstracts?
To ensure smooth abstract management, it is recommended to remove canceled abstracts as soon as you receive the cancellation requests. For unpaid abstracts, it is preferable to retain them and remind the authors about the payment, until you receive confirmation and/or finalize the scientific program. It is essential to remove all un-presented abstracts from the book of abstracts and the conference program or, at the very least, mark them as "Not presented".
What information should you include in the acceptance letter?
When drafting an acceptance letter, consider including the following information:
- Start with a thank-you for submitting the abstract and mention the conference name and date.
- Clearly state the final decision and presentation type, including the abstract title, to ensure the author can confirm acceptance and prepare for their presentation.
- Include registration requirements, deadlines, and other relevant information, such as how to follow presentation instructions, to help the author plan and prepare for the next steps.
- Close the letter with a welcoming message, expressing that you look forward to their participation in the conference.
How to evaluate an abstract? Step-by-step checklist
Do you need an evaluation process for conference abstracts?
An evaluation process is essential for conference abstracts to ensure their relevance to the conference theme and the quality of the presentations for the audience. By involving reviewers and using an evaluation tool, conference organizers can efficiently assess the abstracts and confirm that they meet quality requirements, and contribute significantly to achieving the conference's objectives.
What should you consider for a well-structured abstract review process?
A well-structured abstract review and evaluation process is essential to ensure a seamless and fair assessment of conference abstracts. Here are the key components to consider:
- Evaluation form:
A simple, straightforward, and easy-to-use evaluation form encourages reviewers to evaluate. The reviewers should be able to preview the abstract including the title, topic, presentation type, and content, along with decision or scoring options and a comment section.
- Evaluation management:
It's crucial to have an evaluation system that enables decision-makers to monitor the status of abstracts, assignments, and reviewer-based progress, and also to manage the evaluation process efficiently.
- Reviewer communication:
Ensure timely reminders are sent to reviewers to encourage timely completion of evaluations and maintain open lines of communication to address any concerns or questions that arise during the evaluation process.
- Decision-making process:
Streamline the final decision-making process by providing an organized overview of reviewer evaluations and comments. This will enable decision-makers to make informed choices based on the quality and relevance of each abstract.
- Author notification:
Establish a timely and clear communication process for notifying authors of the decisions, whether their abstracts are accepted, conditionally accepted, or rejected.
Using an abstract review management tool that offers these components and the abstract database in an efficient process and easy-to-use interfaces is crucial for a seamless and fair evaluation experience for all who are involved, to ensure a successful conference program.
Will you provide reviewers with abstract review instructions?
Providing instructions and guidelines about abstract review and evaluation can help reviewers clearly understand the evaluation criteria and expectations, contributing to a successful conference program. This approach ensures that all reviewers evaluate the abstracts based on the same standards, leading to a fair and consistent evaluation process. While it may not always be necessary, especially when dealing with a limited number of abstracts or reviewers, offering guidance can still be beneficial in maintaining consistency and quality across evaluations.
How should reviewers evaluate abstracts? Using their expertise or following specific evaluation models or criteria?
Allowing reviewers to use their expertise and make an overall evaluation is often the easiest approach. However, you can also implement a more advanced evaluation process or methodology based on your requirements. Common models include SCORE (Scientific Communication Online Review and Evaluation), SADE (Significance, Approach, Data, Evaluation), QUALSYST (Quality System for Technical and Scientific Conferences), and Likert scales. These evaluation approaches typically involve scoring aspects such as relevance, quality, originality, clarity, and significance of the abstract. It's essential to consider the specific needs of your conference when deciding on the most appropriate evaluation approach.
Will you implement a blind evaluation process?
The decision to use an open or blind review process depends on the conference's objectives and requirements. A blind review, which means hiding the author's identity, can help promote fairness in the selection process for abstracts to be presented at the conference. Consider your conference's specific needs and goals when deciding whether to implement a blind or open evaluation process.
How can you encourage reviewers to evaluate on time?
Ensuring that reviewers complete evaluations on time is critical, as they are often busy, high-profile academics volunteering their time. To motivate reviewers, consider the following strategies:
- Provide user-friendly evaluation interfaces: Make it easy for reviewers to track their duties and progress by offering an intuitive and straightforward evaluation system.
- Offer clear evaluation guidelines: Help reviewers understand the evaluation criteria and expectations by providing clear instructions and guidelines for the assessment process.
- Streamline the evaluation process: Simplify the process to make it less time-consuming and more efficient, ensuring that reviewers can complete their evaluations without unnecessary complications.
- Maintain clear communication: Keep an open line of communication with reviewers to address any concerns or questions that may arise during the evaluation process.
- Send reminders and follow up: Remind reviewers of upcoming deadlines and follow up with them to encourage timely completion of evaluations.
By implementing these strategies, you can encourage reviewers in completing evaluations on time and contribute to a successful conference program.
How many reviewers should you assign to each abstract?
The number of reviewers assigned to each abstract depends on the review process being used, the number of abstract submissions, and the available reviewers. Balancing the number of reviewers with the required evaluation time is essential for a successful evaluation process. Generally, assigning at least two reviewers to each abstract can help ensure fairness and reliability in the evaluation process. However, you may consider assigning more reviewers based on the specific needs and goals of your conference.
How to create a book of abstracts? Step-by-step checklist
Will you create a book of abstracts?
Conference organizers typically prepare and publish a book of abstracts, which includes all the oral and poster abstracts scheduled for presentation. This resource offers participants an overview of the conference content and can serve as a reference in scientific studies. However, some conferences may opt to publish a book of extended abstracts or full papers instead of, or in addition to, a traditional book of abstracts.
How do you prepare a book of abstracts for a conference?
Preparing a book of abstracts for a conference involves several steps. Typically, it includes the following sections:
- Title or cover page: This includes the title, conference name, and date.
- Copyright page: Contains copyright information and an ISBN number, if required.
- Preface: Written by the conference chair, it provides an introduction or overview of the conference, including the theme, scientific scope, and objectives.
- Acknowledgment page: Includes members of the committees, invited speakers, and other parties involved in the conference.
- Table of contents: Clearly shows the sections and lists the abstracts in alphabetical order by author names or by presentation order.
- Abstracts section: Contains the abstracts, typically including the title, author's name, and affiliation, body, and keywords. Grouping the abstracts by topic, category, or in a different logical order is important and may require using sub-headers such as invited speakers, oral, and poster abstracts.
- Author Index: Lists all authors in alphabetical order, along with their abstracts' page numbers.
Preparing these sections as separate doc files and combining them into one file can save time and effort, as most abstract management tools provide. The new generation of abstract management software, such as MeetingHand, offers all abstracts in a ready-to-publish book of abstracts. However, in all cases, making a final review of the details for an error-free book of abstracts is a must, and working with an expert for editing and formatting the book might be a better decision, especially when publishing a hard copy was considered. Because, ensuring that all the necessary edits and revisions are done, and all confirmed abstracts are included in a consistent format and styling throughout the book of abstracts is crucial before publishing the book of abstracts.
How to publish, distribute, and promote a conference book of abstracts?
The book of abstracts can be published either in digital or print format, or both. Digital publishing of the book of abstracts has become more popular due to its advantages, such as wider and faster distribution, easy access, cost-effectiveness, and the ability to make seamless revisions and updates. Digital publishing is also environmentally friendly as it uses fewer resources and produces less waste. However, some conference organizers still prefer to provide printed versions, even in limited quantities, for participants who prefer physical copies and for archival purposes.
To effectively promote the conference book of abstracts, share it on the conference website, as well as on the websites of relevant organizations and associations. Email it to online repositories and digital libraries. Additionally, ensure that the book of abstracts is accessible and searchable by search engines like Google. Using appropriate keywords and relevant metadata will increase its visibility.
How to create a conference program? Step-by-step checklist
How to prepare and schedule a conference program agenda?
In the early stages of conference planning, organizers should start working on the conference agenda by creating an initial program overview or program at glance. This includes the conference schedule, session times, social activities, and other main events. Once the invited speakers and abstract authors confirm their participation and social activities are determined, the scheduling of the conference program can begin. Creating a comprehensive and well-organized conference agenda is a crucial goal.
The following steps may lead to a successful agenda:
- Calculate the total time required for invited speakers, oral and poster presentations, and opening & closing sessions.
- Add time for onsite registration and breaks, including coffee breaks and meals.
- Determine the number of presentation rooms and the duration of each presentation. Adjust the presentation time and/or the number of rooms to fit the required schedule.
- Allocate specific time frames for each session, considering presentation topics, the number of presentations on each topic, breaks, and networking opportunities.
- Assign presentations to sessions by linking speakers and abstract titles.
- Add social activities to the conference agenda to create a draft program.
- Share the draft program with speakers and all those involved in the conference for feedback.
- Ensure that all presentations are included and make any necessary adjustments.
- Finalize and release the conference program on the conference website, announce it to attendees, and promote it via social channels and to all those involved in the conference.
Grouping presentations by topic, and category in sessions, particularly when parallel rooms are being used, allows attendees to easily find presentations they're interested in and present on time. Additionally, scheduling break-out times and social activities is essential, as networking and socializing are the key motivations for attending a conference. Providing opportunities for attendees to connect and discuss presentations can significantly enhance the overall conference experience.
"What is happening outside the conference rooms is as important as what is going on inside" since it serves as a key motivator for most participants. Therefore, it's crucial to schedule breakouts and social events at the conference in a manner that fosters networking and socializing opportunities, ultimately increasing satisfaction and significantly enhancing the overall experience.
- While it's possible to create complex abstract submission forms and require authors to write in specific formats for well-designed abstracts, keeping the process simple and concise can maximize the number of collected abstracts. This approach helps conference planners create a comprehensive program and may potentially increase attendance.
- While it's possible to request more author information like current email addresses and phone numbers, obtaining complete or accurate responses from corresponding authors may be challenging. Moreover, it's essential to consider legal rules and regulations surrounding personal data collection, such as CCPA and GDPR
- While most of the conference planners focus on defining the deadlines for abstract submission start & end-date and author notification dates, the deadline for the Authors’ payment is more important as it is required to begin scheduling the agenda and avoid presentation no-shows.
- While the number of attendees is a key indicator of event success, the number of presentations delivered plays a crucial role in determining a conference's success. To maximize the event's impact, it's essential to minimize presentation no-shows. By efficiently following up with and encouraging presenters, conference organizers can reduce no-shows and enhance the overall success of the conference.
In conclusion, managing the abstract submission process for an academic event is a crucial task that requires careful planning, attention to detail, and effective communication with all stakeholders. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can streamline the submission process, ensure a fair and transparent evaluation process, and create a high-quality book of abstracts that showcases the best research in your field. Remember to keep your communication channels open and provide clear guidance and support to authors throughout the submission process. With these tips in mind, you can help to make your academic event a success and foster a vibrant and engaging research community.
However, we also would like to remind you that MeetingHand as a comprehensive event management software has a sophisticated abstract management module. It combines registrations with abstract submissions and helps you manage the abstract evaluation process, create your event program, create your Book of Abstracts, and even manage your invited speakers. So, should you require a complete abstract management solution, we strongly suggest you book a demo with us and attend a private demo session.
I wish you and your team success in all your event planning efforts! And we’ll be more than happy to support you with MeetingHand Online Event Management Software.
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If you are interested in learning more about how to plan and manage academic events, we suggest you check out our latest article, 'How to Plan a Perfect Conference: Step-by-step Checklist for Success'. Click the link to discover more about conference planning and how our checklist can help you maximize your event's success.
How to Plan a Perfect Conference: Step-by-step Checklist for Success
December 16, 2022