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Danica Fine
Danica Fine

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Quick Tips for a Winning Abstract

If you’ve kept up with the rest of this blog series, you saw the components that make up a solid conference abstract along with some examples to inspire you. By now, you should have a pretty good idea of how you can get started writing great conference submissions.

But all of my advice is meant to be a foundation—a scaffolding for you to run with and build something that’s truly your own. You saw some of that in the examples in the previous post. So how do you get to that point? Once you’ve internalized the key information that you need to include in your abstract, it’s time to let your creative juices flow! To make it your own! ... just make sure your abstract is still achieving what you set out to do.

To help you stay on track and rein you in as you artfully craft your abstract, here are a few dos and don’ts that I’d recommend you keep in mind.

A few tips

Note: Some of these tips are going to boil down to personal preference, but I (and other members of my Program Committee) feel that they’re generally best practice:

DON’T waste precious abstract space describing who you are or what your company is unless it’s absolutely necessary. Let the technical details speak for themselves. Instead, use the speaker biography section to talk about yourself and what you do.
👍 DO cut straight to the point. Be concise and clear in your problem statement and goals.

👍 DO be yourself and write as yourself. If this means being casual, then be casual. Your ideas are going to come across more clearly and your abstract will read as genuine.
DON’T feel the need to use an artificially academic or potentially alienating tone (unless an academic tone is required by the conference).

DON’T include links or references to other talks in your abstract.
👍 DO feel free to reference big picture ideas or an author, e.g. Data Mesh and Zhamak Dehghani, but remember to express your own ideas.

👍 DO break your abstract up into sections and separate paragraphs for readability.
DON’T write a novel. Generally speaking, the abstract is what is printed on the conference agenda. It should be concise and able to be read within a minute or two.

DON’T overcommit. It’s easy to go overboard and promise the world in your abstract. Keep the length of the conference session in mind, and only include material that you think you can reasonably cover.
👍 DO feel free to add more content later on! Not every detail needs to be included in your abstract in order for you to bring it up during your actual session. While I advise not trimming content, I find it perfectly acceptable to add additional, relevant information.

DON’T rely exclusively on bullet points to outline your talk in your abstract.
👍 DO try to tell a story. It’s okay to use bullet points where appropriate, but, for the most part, it’s meant to be prose. You’re explaining to an attendee what they can expect and the journey that they’ll go through in attending your talk.

👍 DO add personal touches... and maybe a pun or two!
DON’T let your flair get in the way of the content.

DON’T make [too many] assumptions; a lot of this boils down to knowing your audience. If you're unsure, it's always safe to start from 0 and build from there!
👍 DO have peers and friends from a variety of backgrounds review your abstract before submitting. Bonus points if they have absolutely nothing to do with tech and still understand your abstract!

A final request

The above list is, by no means, exhaustive. In fact, it took me multiple conference seasons to assemble what's here, and I still feel there's so much more I could share!

So, with that in mind, now I'm curious to hear from you. What have you found that works (and doesn't work) when writing abstracts and submitting to a conference? 🤔

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