How to structure a conference proposal: today’s #acwrimo task

I have several #acwrimo tasks on the go at the moment but my main focus today is writing a proposal for an academic conference. I have done this once before but it was a long time ago, so I have been looking for useful resources to help me put this proposal together. On the RGS-IBG website (or the Royal Geographical Society’s website) there is a really useful set of resources that explain how to propose a variety of different types of organised sessions including Paper Sessions, Panel Sessions, Split Sessions. World Cafes, Speed Dating (or collaborative match-making) sessions and Roundtable sessions (so many!). These can be viewed here.

The format for the session I want to propose is the Paper Session. This should include four to five papers each of approximately 15 minutes in length, followed by five minutes of questions. This allows academics to present on their area of interest, as it relates to the focus of the session and to discuss their work with other interested colleagues. This particular session will use an open call approach whereby people submit abstracts as expressions of interest having viewed the call for papers. This requires a clearly focused session proposal that outlines clearly what the session organisers are looking for.

Looking at past examples of proposals and CfP’s that have been sent to me via Email has been a useful exercise in thinking about how to structure the proposal and how to decide what elements are important to include. Looking at past calls for papers, the following structure appears to be commonly used and useful for putting together a session proposal:

Title – This needs to be pithy and focused

Session Organisers – List who is chairing and organising the session

Position the session within existing debates/identify the gap – Explain why this session is needed now and explain what debates you are contributing to or expecting to move forward. What gap in knowledge are you contributing to?

Identify the focus of the session – Outline the general topic you want to attract papers about. This should be focused enough to ensure that you attract relevant papers, but broad enough to capture an interesting range of papers.

Explain more specifically what you want the session to explore – You are proposing the session because you want to move an agenda or debate forward. Therefore you should hopefully have some idea of what kinds of topics and papers you want to include. Being more specific about what you want the papers to explore provides useful guidance for people who want to propose a paper.

Use bullet points to list and suggest topics of interest – Again, these act as a signpost to potential contributors about what topics you are interested in focusing on. If you want to attract papers that focus on methodological, theoretical and empirical aspects, make this point clearly.

If necessary, refer to the broader focus of the conference or research theme – If the conference overall has a specific theme or focus overall, then ideally the papers that are included should respond to this as well.

Provide contact details and abstract submission requirements – The practical bit – people need to know where to submit their papers to and what format their submission needs to be in.

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