10 Abstract Management Tips for a Conference

Wednesday, October 5, 2022 Tips and Tricks

Matthieu Chartier, PhD.
Matthieu Chartier, PhD.

Founder @ Fourwaves

Collecting abstracts can be daunting, especially if it’s your first time. Even for small conferences, managing abstract submissions takes a high level of organization to avoid wasting time or missing a submission in your inbox.

For large conferences, abstract management is even more complex due to the increased volume of data to collect and organize, and an increasingly complicated submission and review processes.

The hard work can be done by PCOs (Professional Conference Organizers), but it’s often done by busy professors or volunteer graduate students who are not experts in abstract management.

Keep reading to learn our best abstract management tips that will make your life easier and help you avoid beginner mistakes.

1. Start in advance

Abstract management doesn’t start when submissions open, nor does it end when abstracts are received. You need enough lead time to prepare your submission process. Depending on your event, you’ll require additional time for the review process, to make the final selection, notify authors and build your final program.

As the conference approaches, other important tasks will surface. For those reasons, it’s best to start your abstract management process sooner rather than later.

How far in advance?

Start preparing abstract submissions 8 to 12 months before the conference. You don’t want to close submissions too early, especially if you’re collecting early stage research abstracts related to projects that evolve rapidly.

But you also want to notify accepted presenters early enough they can plan their accommodations and apply for travel grants.

2. Promote your call for abstracts

Spending a lot of time preparing your submission and review process is useless if you don’t receive any submissions. It is essential to plan how you will promote your call for abstracts.

Emailing is a common channel to promote your call for abstracts. But because researchers are bombarded with emails, often from organizers of fake conferences, it's not as effective as it used to be. Personalizing the emails is a great way to improve your results.

You can also find ambassadors that will call other researchers or department heads to announce your upcoming conference.

If you use social media, LinkedIn and Twitter are the two where scientists spend most of their attention. Using images will help grab the viewer’s attention to your post.

Make sure to highlight what’s unique about your conference and diversify your promotion channels.

3. Communicate the timeline to submitters

Let submitters know the important dates from your timeline: When the acceptance notifications will be sent, when they will be required to submit their final material, and any other important milestones.

Publish this timeline on your call for abstracts page and include it in your submission confirmation email. This will reassure submitters and make the next steps clear for them. 

Because many of them will need to apply for travel grants, prepare their poster or oral presentation and arrange accommodation, providing a clear timeline will really help with their planning process.

4. Choose the submission form fields carefully

During the submission process, don’t ask for unnecessary information. For example, some submission forms ask for an address, phone number and other personal information that are never used. Keep the submission form short to avoid discouraging submissions.

Instead of asking for a full address, the country may be all you need to provide statistics on your presenters at the closing ceremony. You can also provide multiple choice questions instead of text answers, which will allow you to more easily compile statistics on the profile of your presenters (undergrad, masters, PhD, PostDoc, etc.).

Asking for the topic is essential if you want to build a balanced program or distribute submissions to the right group of reviewers.

Take a look at what was asked in the previous edition and ask previous organizers if certain fields were unnecessary or missing. You can also look at other conferences in your field for inspiration on useful metrics to track or things to ask.

5. Provide clear guidelines

It might seem obvious what an abstract includes: some background information on the subject, why the work is important, an outline of the methodology, key results and a discussion in relation to the objectives ending with a conclusion.

But many submitting for the first time will need clear guidelines on what the abstract should include. Make sure to also specify which aspects they will be evaluated on (if there is a formal selection process).

For example, if your conference wants to highlight research projects that have a high social impact, make sure to be clear about this in the submission form so they know which data to highlight in their abstract.

When full conference papers are submitted, authors will also require clear guidelines on the conference paper format and style.

6. Use an abstract management software

One of the first conferences I organized was 3DSIG, a satellite meeting of a larger conference. We were collecting about 100 submissions per year and had a shared Gmail inbox for the conference that we used to receive all abstracts.

All in all, it worked. Everyone was able to submit, I didn’t forget anyone (that I know of), but it was extremely time consuming. I manually verified each submission to make sure all the required information was sent, I entered the submission in a small database (to which I connected an email server to eventually send acceptance notifications) and sent a confirmation email manually. All submissions were compiled in a Word document and sent to reviewers. One of my colleagues tallied the scores after manually following up with reviewers.

Basically, we spent countless hours double checking everything and doing manual work that could have been automated. An abstract management software provides a professional look and feel that will convince more people to submit and register for your conference, while removing the necessity for most of the manual work involved.

7. Distribute submissions to reviewers by topic

If you have a conference with multiple tracks, make sure the submission form  asks which track the abstract being submitted is targetting.

When recruiting reviewers, ask them which topic they specialize in. When you distribute submissions to reviewers, you will be able to assign submissions to the right group of reviewers to ensure proper evaluation.

8. Don’t overload your reviewers

It’s always best to have multiple reviewers assigned to each submission to get different points of views. Software like Fourwaves can calculate standard deviations that indicate to what extent reviewers agree or disagree.

You need to find the balance in order to maintain high-quality reviews while demanding a reasonable workload for your scientific committee. Remember that most of the reviewers are volunteering their time and can be very busy writing grants, managing their lab or teaching.

Depending on the length of your submissions and the complexity of the reviewing form, completing a review can take around 15 minutes. You can do the math to figure out how much time you think is reasonable for reviewers to spend on the whole process.

For instance, if you believe 3 hours is reasonable, that’s 180 minutes or 12 reviews. If you expect to receive 200 submissions, that means you’ll need around 17 reviewers to keep the work balanced.

9. Publish abstracts online

Abstracts are useful to determine which presentations will be selected in your final program, but they’re also an effective form of communication that allows participants to discover new projects in their field and find potential collaborators.

Yes, you can print an abstract booklet that is handy to take notes on the day of the event, but if your abstract management software allows, make them available online. Ideally include the link from your conference program so that participants can get more detailed information on the content of each session and build their own schedule.

Solutions like Fourwaves allow you to publish supplementary material (e.g. posters, slides, figures, pre-recorded videos) and allow you to contact presenters and offer a discussion section where participants can ask questions before, during, and after the conference.

10. Learn from feedback

You will hopefully have feedback from previous editions. If you don’t, talk to other organizers in your field to learn what worked and what didn’t. Were certain topics or sessions less popular? Were sessions too long? Was there not enough time for questions or discussions?

Make sure to also collect feedback from your own audience after the event to guide next year’s edition. Integrating feedback is super important to keep your event relevant and your audience engaged from one year to the next.

Need additional help?

If you follow these tips, managing the abstracts for your event will be much easier. If you want to streamline your abstract submission and peer review processes, you can book a demo to learn more about how Fourwaves can help you.

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