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Support and guidance for undergraduate conference delegates

Writing an Abstract for a Conference

At a conference delegates may be provided with conference abstracts ahead of or during the conference to help them decide which sessions they want to attend. Your abstract will almost certainly be used to help conference organisers decide whether or not your paper will be accepted for presentation at the event. Learning to write an abstract for your research work, whether for a conference, an academic journal or a research database, is therefore a key skill.

Most abstracts are about 100-250 words long and offer a window in to your research so that others can learn whether they want to know more. As such, your abstract needs to be accurate, interesting and relevant in order to ensure that (the right) people engage with your work. Writing a good abstract can be as difficult, if not more so, than writing the conference paper itself. I've got all this brilliant and well-presented research! How am I going to sum it up in 200 words??

There are various techniques you can use to write an effective abstract. One of them is to write out your conference paper first and then go through your paper and summarise each paragraph in one line. Then use all these lines to form the basis of your abstract. Don't use the lines word for word and just run them together, but use them to shape your abstract. This technique means that there is a logical chronology to your abstract, which will match your presentation, and ensures that your abstract doesn't suddenly contain new information you forget to present at the conference.

One important thing to remember about an abstract is that it shouldn't be a 'teaser' like the blurb on the back of a book. Your abstract should be a summary of your whole paper – what you did, why you did it, how you did it, what your results were and (if relevant) where your research is going from here.

Alongside your abstract the title of your paper is also important. For guidance on how to create an effective title please refer to the Reinvention website.

FIRST, consider four key questions about the research project: The WHY? The WHAT? The SO WHAT? The NOW WHAT?

THEN, create the final abstract by compiling the responses to the key questions, considering the following through the editing process.

  • Is anything missing that was integral to the project? Perhaps there’s an aspect of the research that didn’t fit neatly into the four answers. Now add any important elements that were missed.
  • Has the combination of the four responses produced some repetition? If so, streamline the abstract and remove any extraneous material.
  • Are some transitional phrases needed between the answers to the questions? Think about how to guide the reader through the abstract and the research process. Abstracts should inform but they can also be enjoyable for the audience to read. Add transitional words, phrases, or sentences to clearly connect the different aspects of your project.
  • How accessible is the abstract to an interdisciplinary audience? Subject-specific language is used in all disciplines, however, at an interdisciplinary conference, it’s important that the work is accessible to all. Reduce the use of jargon where possible and seek advice outside the field to check the abstract for intelligibility.
  • Don’t forget about the title! Titles are important. At the conference, a great title will attract audience members to the presentation and increase their engagement with the research. And, beyond the conference, a good title enhances the discoverability of the research online, increasing the chances of being cited by other scholars. Make sure the title reflects the project accurately and includes key words that can help others discover the research.

Presenting your research

The IATL Method is based on research by Day and Peters (1994), "Quality Indicators in Academic Publishing", Library Review, 43, 7

If your work originated as an essay, you will have been given the title so you can just get started with addressing the question. This is not the case when presenting your own research, so you need to start by saying why your subject is important and why you want to study it. Don’t be tempted to launch into your presentation saying what you did and what the results were, offer some context, give some background and let your audience know what your research questions were and why they are important.

You can then move on to what you did. The way you tackle this will depend on your research and your subject area but you should ensure that your presentation progresses logically and doesn’t jump around. Let your audience know how you went about your research, why you decided to conduct the interviews / experiments / analysis that you did, who / what was involved in your research, what were your results and what was your analysis of those results. Always have your audience in mind when you're preparing your presentation and ensure you are doing all you can to help them understand your research.

Next, you need to tell your audience what your results mean and what your analysis of them has shown. Explicitly, what are the answers to your research questions? What are your conclusions? What effect has this had / could it have on your discipline? You don't want you leave your audience wondering why they attended your presentation and what they have gained - asking 'so what?'.

And finally, 'Now what?' – have your discoveries opened up further questions for research, or have you produced something which is self-contained and doesn't need further study? Are you continuing with your research? Other people listening to your presentation might have been inspired to carry out their own research so let them know what further questions you think your research has raised.

You will only have a short time to present your research, whether orally or by poster, so although we recommend covering all of the aspects mentioned above you will necessarily only touch on some areas while going into more detail on others. Please remember to acknowledge the support or involvement of members of staff in your research if appropriate.

Verbal Presentations

Presentations at many conferences should be 15 minutes long with a further 5 minutes to allow for questions. You can use PowerPoint or Prezi to support your talk but do think imaginatively and creatively about how to engage your audience. Don’t be afraid of getting them involved or presenting without technological support!

There are some excellent websites offering further information on planning and delivering an effective presentation, as well as what visual aids to use, how to deal with questions and how to get your message across succinctly:

You might also want to look at the presentations carried out at the previous meetings of the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) or the International Conference for Undergraduate Research (ICUR) and decide for yourself what the presenters did effectively and what you might want to bring into your own presentation.

Poster Presentations

Features of an effective poster design include:

  • Readable in 10 minutes max (5 minutes is better!)
  • Accessible and easily understood by a non-specialist audience
  • Informative, not overwhelming
  • Carefully chosen priorities – foreground key points
  • Minimal text
  • Clear structure (abstract / introduction / main body / conclusion)
  • Clear navigation (headings / number / colour / layout)
  • Overall cohesion (text linked to images and carefully co-ordinated colours and fonts
  • Professionally produced
  • A useful guide to producing a poster can be found here.

Additional Advice

  • Don’t justify the text – it's harder to read
  • Consider line spacing – white space
  • Use sub-headings (headings in bold)
  • Limit blocks of text (no more than 10 sentences)
  • Use only 2 fonts for your poster
  • Use correct citation for your discipline
  • Be aware of your colour choices - colourblindness affects 8% of males. Run it through ‘Vischeck’:



  • Handouts are allowed if they will help you explain your research
  • Plan a brief talk in case you get a small audience
  • Plan prompts for discussion
  • Look at example posters for example from BCUR 2012

Networking at Conferences

You might want to look at the links below for some useful information on making the most of your time at an academic conference:

An introvert’s guide to networking:

Networking advice:


If you need any further help and support please contact Emma Barker ( ).

All Warwick students presenting at the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR), at the International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR), and at the World Congress on Undergraduate Research (WorldCUR) will be invited to attend a number of training sessions to help support you with everything from training on intercultural competency to help improving your presentation skills.

Email to find out more.


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