As with any project, you’ll need a realistic plan, a good team and the right tools. Before we plunge into what managing abstracts involves, here are our top tips:
- Start early. Typically, the process of abstract management begins many months before your event takes place. Calls for abstracts are often launched 8 or 9 months before a conference and there’s lots to do in advance.
- Get advice. Before you do anything, speak to someone who’s done this before. Nothing beats learning from experience – so learn from someone else’s. Bring people with expertise onto your committee.
- Make life as easy as possible. Abstract management can be a complex process, but there are ways it can be simplified so you spend less time on admin and more time shaping a high-quality event.
So, where to start with abstract management? Your task will depend on the size, nature and complexity of the event, but there are some key stages you’ll need to go through. Here’s a simple overview:
- Decide when you want to publish your final conference program (usually at least a month before the event) and work backwards from there.
- Set key dates, such as deadlines for abstract submission, opening and closing the peer review process, collecting final submissions.
- Build in extra time in case things don’t go exactly to plan.
2. Designing your abstract submission process
- Define conference topics and consider whether you want to organise your program into different thematic areas (often called tracks or streams).
- Identify the types of session you’ll invite. This could be as simple as oral presentation or poster but could include other options, such as workshops and panels.
- If your conference is virtual or hybrid, you may wish to offer format options for presentations (e.g. video, slides with commentary etc.).
- Decide what information you’ll need from authors and the format you require; produce guidelines for authors.
3. Creating your infrastructure
- Set up the systems, forms and templates you’ll need to manage the submissions and peer review process, and to engage with authors and reviewers. You don’t have to create everything yourself - good abstract management software includes customisable templates with standard questions/fields to help get you started (e.g. our demo abstract submission form).
- Think about how delegates are going to register. You’ll want to know that presenters have registered before you confirm their place in the program. Using software that integrates abstract management with delegate registration makes this easy.
- Consider how you’re going to build and publish your program. Does it make sense to link this to your abstract management system, to avoid duplication of work and prevent errors creeping in, especially when those inevitable last-minute changes take place?
4. Issuing your call for papers
- Be creative in how you promote your conference to researchers (being careful to comply with data protection legislation).
- Give compelling messages about why they should be interested and include key information – conference theme and topics, abstract submission deadlines, links to authors’ guidelines etc.
- Leave enough time to issue a final call for papers. Typically, the submissions window is around two months.
5. Organising the peer review process
- Estimate how many submissions you’re likely to receive and decide on the number of reviews per submission (usually at least two).
- Identify and invite reviewers. Make sure you have enough people involved in the process so that the workload is manageable, even if one or two drop out.
- Design your scoring system (criteria, grades, comments required) and decide whether there will be more than one stage of peer review – will reviewers have the option of asking for submissions to be reworked?
- Once the submissions window has closed, assign submissions to reviewers, being clear about what you need them to do, by when. Allow at least 4-6 weeks for peer review and decision-making.
- Keep an eye on your reviewers’ progress. Busy people sometimes need a nudge!
- Close peer review, calculate scores and notify submitters of decisions.
- Collect final submissions. If you’re publishing a book of proceedings, make sure you build in enough time for corrections and collecting copyright.
Once decisions are made and presenters have confirmed, you’ll be ready to create your conference program! This is a tricky but ultimately rewarding part of the conference organising process (and one that deserves its own blog).