Friday, 11 January 2013

If at first...

This week I learned that a conference proposal that I'd jointly made with my friend and former colleague Natalia was unsuccessful. We were hoping to talk to a wide audience from across the library and information world on how we feel so-called 'generic' skills are underplayed in their importance to contemporary and future librarianship. I like to think we'd have given a positive and provocative take on this.

The initial disappointment has now passed, but I found myself thinking soon afterwards that maybe it would be interesting to blog the proposal anyway. Librarianship is a remarkably open profession so it feels comfortable doing this. The paper contains no big secrets, and nothing that Natalia or I haven't ever said out-loud or on twitter before, so why not give it some exposure on here?

The profile that a slot at a major conference can give your ideas is certainly very desirable but it's no longer the only way to reach an audience. As I stand by the ideas that we were putting forward, it would be a shame for the proposal to end here. Perhaps others will find the proposed content interesting and maybe it can be useful elsewhere. 

I'm hopeful that by sharing it and taking any comments that I might be better prepared for the next time. In that spirit I was surprised and pleased then to see the Library Camp people doing the same already via Google Docs. It's also reassuring to see that we're in excellent company in not making the programme this year.

So here it is via a Google Doc. Please let us know what you think either in comments here, on twitter or on the document itself!


Anne Welsh said...

I assume you've asked the selection panel for feedback.

It's hard to know why any proposal gets turned down until you know what's made it through. Sometimes folks get rejected purely because there is another paper that is doing something really similar and in some way that pips the rejected paper to the post. This can just be a style issue - a paper based on research conducted tends to bear a paper based on a pilot study which tends to beat a case study and so on and so forth.

I doubt the rejection here is about the idea itself. It's a good idea, so your instinct that it's about drafting may be well placed.

So, these are just a couple of really vague tips I've picked up along the way, in case they are helpful.

1. Write the abstract about a paper that has already been written (even if you haven't written it yet). "This paper discusses ..." is a good first sentence even if you chuck it out for something more creative in the first draft.
2. For practitioner conferences, talk specifics. If you're going to talk from your own observation, that's fine, but give an example in your abstract.
3. Any form of technical writing is formulaic. So have a look at abstracts that have made it in and work out the underlying formula. A very basic one that works in most abstracts for practitioner conferences is Big Idea - Why it matters - Case study or case studies - What it / they demonstrate - Why it matters - Conclusion - why it matters and, most importantly of all for practitioners, what they can take home.
4. Ask someone you trust who is good at placing abstracts to read through yours before you submit it. I used to be hideously shy about such things, but people are generous.
5. No rejection is the end. Ask for feedback from the selection panel. Say thanks, smile sweetly and use the feedback to write a killer proposal next time. Because there's always a next time.

Having looked at your abstract I'm sad it didn't get in. Regroup, redraft and send it in somewhere else.

Hope this is helpful and not patronising.


Anne Welsh said...

Sorry, for some reason the comment posted twice!

Sarah Wolfenden said...


Sorry you didn't get through. I'm not sure I can really add much to what Anne has already said but I wanted you to know I had read and considered it. I would reiterate the point about examples and 'my paper discusses and concludes' etc. I found looking at previous conference abstracts useful - I wouldn't listen too closely to me though as mine wasn't accepted either!

Dave Puplett said...

Anne, Sarah, many thanks for your feedback.

We did ask for feedback at the time and unfortunately none has been forthcoming. I will ask again!

Your tips are very sensible and it would be fair to say that the experience has not put me off trying again in the future at all.

Onwards and upwards!