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types of writing

Conference Papers and Presentations

Eric I., former Writing Center tutor

Please keep in mind that these are only general guidelines; always defer to your professor's specifications for a given assignment. If you have any questions about the content represented here, please contact the Writing Centers so that we can address them for you.

A conference paper is simply a paper written for and presented at an academic conference. Sometimes the conference paper may have not originally been written for a conference at all; instead, it may have been written for a journal, some other publication, or for a class. “Conference paper” and “conference presentation” are generally synonymous—they often refer to the same thing: the “text” contains the ideas a person is presenting at an academic conference. Often, presenters at academic conferences literally read their paper aloud to the audience. Other times, presenters develop the ideas from a paper into a presentation that may include pictures, video, and sound—with tools like PowerPoint, a slideshow, or an overhead projector.

Like academic writing for course assignments in college, conference papers have a central thesis or purpose. If a presenter is not arguing a specific point in a conference paper, that presenter’s purpose might be to share findings or other insights from research. The content of a conference presentation should be relevant, timely, and significant for the field or discipline in which the conference is situated—for example, a conference paper for a physics conference should respond to some current or important issue related to physics.

When working on a conference paper, you should keep the following points in mind:

  • Because you are presenting a paper at a conference (or if you are writing a conference paper for a class), you are considered to be an expert on the topic you are discussing. This means you should know your subject thoroughly and be able to discuss it beyond the limits of your paper—do this by reading major journals in the field, researching similar topics on the Internet, and reading recent books on the topic.
  • You will likely be presenting your paper to other experts in the field. You need to support your claims with sufficient evidence and research to convince your audience that you know what you are talking about—after many conference presentations, time is reserved for question and answer.
  • Some members of your audience may not be experts about your subject—or may have no knowledge about it at all. Your presentation should be accessible and clear. Unless you know every member of your audience and his or her knowledge with your subject, you should take time to explain any complex ideas that your presentation depends on.

Writing the Conference Paper

Approach the conference paper similarly to the way you would approach a research paper or any persuasive, academic writing. You are either trying to convince an audience that your position or ideas about a particular topic are correct or that you have important findings and information to report about relevant research.

Your paper should follow a logical organization—you can go from the small details to the big picture or in reverse. You can talk through your research, beginning with the hypothesis, the research methods, the findings, and ending with your conclusion. You can use a narrative to discuss your ideas as well. The point here is that your presentation is organized in a way that will allow your audience to follow along. Here’s an example outline of this structure:

  • Begin with hypothesis
    • Include any important information that the audience may need to understand the hypothesis
  • Discuss research methods
  • Report your findings
  • Discuss the implications of these findings as they relate to the field

The same advice follows if you are making a conference presentation that includes audio and visuals—you can’t randomly throw words, pictures, and sounds together and hope that it makes sense. Audio and visuals need to be organized in a way that complements the ideas and points that you discuss.

Additional Resources

  • Conference paper guide from Claremont Graduate University’s Writing Center. Has information about the different types of presentations that take place at conferences; information about writing conference proposals and abstracts; information specific to humanities and the social sciences; and, tips for delivering conference papers.
  • Creating an effective conference presentation from Nancy J. Karlin, University of North Carolina. Has information about what to include in conference papers and posters. Also has information about decorum and appropriate attire.
  • How to write an academic conference paper from Contains basic information about submitting an abstract and writing a conference paper for general audiences—the information is not specific to any discipline or field.
  • PowerPoint Presentation Tips from Mike Splane, College of Business, San Jose State University. Includes information about visuals and other factors when delivering presentations.
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