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How to write an excellent paper abstract

by: Corinne Furness, BritGrad 2018 Chair

Originally posted: 2 March, 2018

One thing that often comes up in feedback for BritGrad is what a great first conference it makes. This is something we’re very proud of and, in honour of our 20th anniversary, we will publish a series of posts that will hopefully help you get the most out of BritGrad (whether it’s your first conference or indeed your twentieth!).

With our call for papers closing later this month we thought we’d look first at what makes a good abstract, to best enable you to become a delegate (presenting a paper) at BritGrad 2018:

First up, we know it can be a challenge to present your research clearly in only 200 words. It’s definitely a skill that gets easier with practice and it can also help you clarify and communicate your research better. Here are some things to consider when writing your abstract:

Subject – What are you writing about? Purpose/Aims/Object – Why write about it? Nature of Field and Contribution – What else is written on this subject? Is your paper related to a larger field of study? How are you interacting with existing scholarship and discourse? Evidence – What sources/textual references do you use to support your argument? Is there anything unique about the nature of this evidence? Approach – What is the angle? What might be unique about the research you’ve done or the evidence you provide? Argument – What is your overall claim or main argument? Conclusions – What conclusions do you make? Are there areas still open for exploration on this subject?

You should think of these as guidelines and they can tackle them in an order which makes sense for your research. It’s also worth remembering to communicate as clearly as possible. Flowery language or riffs on Shakespeare’s greatness are also probably best avoided. As a final tip – remember to include a title for your paper!

At BritGrad we don’t request a bio alongside your abstract, but many people do include a sentence or two in their email about where and what degree they’re studying. This is always nice for us to know, but it’s entirely up to you whether you include this or not. It’s also good practice to send abstracts as an attachment rather than in the main body of an email (doc, docx, or pdf are all good).

Every year BritGrad awards a prize for the best abstract, with the winner receiving £100, and this year is no different. The committee puts together a shortlist of abstracts which are then anonymously judged by staff at the Shakespeare Institute. It’s definitely worthwhile spending a little bit of time on your abstract as this year the winner could be you!

If you’d like to see some examples of abstracts from the 2016 conference we’ve put together a few abstracts from different areas of the discipline to hopefully inspire you. You can download those here. Good luck with your abstract!

This post was written with thanks to Dr Tara Hamling and BritGrad 2017 Co-Chair Karen Harker.

Photo credit: CC image by Bruce Guenter on Flickr

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