Tips for writing an effective conference proposal abstract

Please refer to the submission guidelines and presentation formats before submitting your proposal on-line here

In writing an abstract for submission to the Assessment in Higher Education (AHE) conference you are in effect ‘selling your ideas’ and you should make the title and abstract for your proposal clear, relevant to the audience, and distinctive, as well as conforming to the technical guidance provided by the conference organisers. An effective title and abstract will attract a good number of conference delegates to attend your session. Your initial draft abstract is likely to benefit from review and editing. If possible, allow some time for this and involve a critical friend or mentor to give you some feedback on your draft before you revise and submit it.

Here we just offer some additional advice especially aimed at new presenters and researchers, with four sections:

  • Focus, purpose and audience
  • Language and audience
  • Title
  • Elements of the abstract
    • The issue or problem and perhaps why it is important
    • Previous research by other people and what makes your work distinctive
    • Methods and data sources for your research or evaluation of practice
    • Key findings, conclusions and implications
    • References

Focus, purpose and audience

You may have a large and complex project, but it is unlikely that you can share all of that within a time-limited conference presentation. So, decide on your purpose in presenting at the conference and then focus down onto a suitable element or perspective of your project, and make sure it is of interest and value to the audience. The AHE conference audience includes international academics interested in assessment and feedback but from a range of subject disciplines, so even if your project is in a specific discipline, policy and institutional context, you need to make clear how it is relevant and useful to participants. The AHE audience also includes academic developers, senior leaders and researchers into assessment and feedback. These delegates are likely to value projects with an underpinning of advanced scholarship but that also offer practical implications.

If you are presenting a critical evaluation of innovative practice in assessment and feedback then the history and particular context may be crucial, but the audience are likely to be more interested in your theoretical framework, key findings and the possible implications for practice in their own settings. If presenting research into assessment and feedback then you might focus on the data analysis, key findings and implications for practice, alternatively you might decide to focus on the research process and what can be learned from that to inform further research. In terms of writing an abstract for submission to conference, you should make your focus clear and indicate the ‘take aways’ that academics, academic developers, senior leaders and researchers in the audience might gain from attending.

Language and audience

Always consider your audience to include international colleagues, those using English as a second language, or simply busy academics who are likely to skip dense, jargon laden or vaguely worded abstracts. Present complex ideas in Plain English and avoid acronyms and unnecessary local details or terminology. The abstract will be just one paragraph and is in effect a concise version of your presentation or paper.

If you are proposing to present on a project that is currently in progress, then you may be tempted to use the future tense. This is reasonable given the months remaining between submission and the event. However, try to be clear and specific of what you will have completed before conference so that you reassure the reviewers, the committee and the audience of what you will have done and be able to include in the presentation.


A powerful title for your proposed presentation should tell the reader what the main focus is but also, if possible, give a hint of the key findings. Your initial draft title might be long-winded and include details, such as the context or methodology, that are not essential. For example: ‘A qualitative phenomenographic study of the varied conceptions held by academic tutors of coursework assessment of second year undergraduate social science students in England’. Might become ‘Academic tutor conceptions of coursework assessments’. However, this concise version still does not give a hint of the findings, so it might become: ‘Conceptions of Coursework Assessment: Transaction, participation, contribution’. This version at least hints at the findings and is just under 100 characters, which makes it concise and more likely to catch the eye in a conference programme.

Elements of the abstract

There are at least five elements required in the abstract:

The issue or problem and perhaps why it is important: It usually works best to get straight to the heart of the issue, rather than having a preamble about the context of the study such as policy changes or pressures such as the pandemic. How will your presentation be useful to conference delegates, from the UK, from Europe and beyond, as they consider developing their practice or research in assessment and feedback into the future?

Previous research by other people and what makes your work distinctive: What do we already know or think we know about the issue from previous international research? How is your practice or research innovative? Perhaps you are using a distinctive methodology or theoretical framework to strengthen your critical evaluation or research? What contribution does your work make to our understanding of the issue?

Methods and data sources for your research or evaluation of practice: What data did you generate and what was your approach to analysis?

Key findings, conclusions and implications: This section is often neglected so try to keep sufficient words to include at least one or two key findings, even if in a very concise form. If your project is still in progress, then at least try to signal what take aways conference delegates a wide range of different settings might gain from the session.

Citation and references: For an Assessment in Higher Education (AHE) proposal you are asked to cite up to six key references within the body of your abstract and then list those references in the field provided on the submission form. Please take the time to make your references complete and in a standard and consistent format. Returning abstracts for minor amendments of references causes delays and creates unnecessary administration costs. Please follow the style in the examples below which will help to create a consistent style across the conference programme (note the sections of these examples that are in italics).

Book:  Cottrell, S. (2019) The study skills handbook. 5th edn. London: Red Globe Press.

Chapter:  Jenkins, L. (2016) Respiratory tract infections, in Blythe, A. and Buchan, J. (eds.) Essential primary care. Oxford: Wiley pp. 321-333.

Journal article:  Armstrong, J., Green, K. and Soon, W. (2011) ‘Research on forecasting for the manmade global warming alarm’, Energy and Environment, 22(8), pp.1091-1104.

Online resource:  Author or organisation (Year last updated) Title of site or page. Available at: URL. (Accessed: date, month, year).

Useful links for further advice

Sometimes the resources available online do not distinguish between an abstract for a journal paper and an abstract for a conference. There is considerable overlap but also some differences in the requirements.

A useful short article on the Enago Academy website

A blog post on the LSE website How to write a killer conference abstract: The first step towards an engaging presentation.

A slightly alternative viewpoint emphasising abstract as narrative with three parts, usefully focuses on audience

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