Conference paper format

This post will discuss the topic of conference paper format and the typical section headings you need to have in your conference paper. It is important to remember that although we do cover some of the main points here, the format should follow whatever structure that has decided upon by the conference organizers. Make sure you follow their standard format¬†, step by step, the most common critique that you will find against a conference paper is “this paper doesn’t follow our format guide”.

Although it may seem silly, it’s nonetheless important to follow the specific direction given by the conference organizers with respect to the standard format in order to avoid this type of response. They often complain about authors not using the correct heading margin, column widths, fonts (e.g. times new roman), the correct use of quotation marks, where to put the authors name, line spaces¬† and using the “correct” form of English (often either British English or American English depending on the journal). The editorial check will often look at some of the issues mentioned above (i.e. conformity of style).¬†

In short, your conference paper will typically include the section headings below:

  • A strong abstract – this is like a miniature of your paper. It needs to follow their specific style guide. If you’re unsure about their style guide, check the conference website and if you still can’t find any specific directions, you can ask one of the conference organizers.
  • an introduction that will cover the background for the research and the purpose of the research, similar to a thesis statement.
  • your method / methodology – e.g. did you use a case study? did you collect empirical data? did you use imperial units or metric units? whatever that may be relevant to how you collected your data and analyzed it.
  • the results section – here you present the interesting results that you gained, focus on any new ideas that may have been generated by your research. It’s O.K if it is preliminary results for a conference paper.
  • discussion / analysis – like all academic work, here is where you place written text that analyse your results and contextualize them.
  • conclusions – these should be short and to the point. 
  • list of references – make sure you have some good references – meaning relevant references of authoritative voices in your field. 

From an educational perspective, a conference is an event where eminent researchers/scholars converge physically (or use information and communications technology) to discuss or present research papers specific to their field. It is said that the first known use of the word “conference” was in 1527, meaning “a meeting of two or more persons for discussing matters of common concern.” It came from the word “confer”, which means “to compare views or take counsel.” 

However, the idea of a conference far predates the emergence of the word. As long as there have been people on earth, there have been meetings and discussions (or conferences) by people. Evidence of ancient forms of conferences has been found in archaeological remains that show gatherings of people to discuss common concerns such as arrangements for hunting, war, negotiations for peace, or the organisation of tribal celebrations, among others.
Modern conferences are periodically held to discuss a broad variety of topics, from psychology to politics to natural sciences and many more. With the development of information and communications technology, conference holders have the choice of replacing the physical meeting space with a telephonic or virtual form of meeting. This has resulted in events/terms such as conference calls and video conferences.

Attending conferences can be beneficial, especially for postgraduate researchers who are just getting started with their studies and aren’t quite ready to publish yet. Some of the benefits include acquiring new knowledge/insight from seasoned scholars as well as establishing valuable contacts through networking with other attendees (including potential employers).

For those presenting a conference paper, it is an opportunity to get feedback on your research, for example by discussing with, asking, and taking questions from the audience. This can help you think of fresh ways to broaden your paper, perhaps into a journal article.

What is a conference paper?

A conference paper is an article presented at a conference. Before the presentation, however, either the paper’s abstract or full manuscript has to be submitted to the conference organizer for review and subsequent approval for presentation. Most times the review is conducted by two or more referees or reviewers.  A rejected paper will not be presented at the conference.

The presentation is usually oral and can include visuals and software such as PowerPoint. 
Sometimes, conference papers are later published in conference proceedings in order to be accessed by a larger audience. In academia and librarianship, a conference proceeding is a collection of papers published in an academic conference or workshop. In other words, it is a written compilation of papers presented by researchers to fellow researchers and the public at a conference. Papers published in conference proceedings are usually distributed in printed or electronic volumes, either before the commencement of the conference or after its conclusion.

What is the ideal conference paper format?

Though conference papers have a broad identical framework, their format can vary from one conference to another. However, a typical conference paper will have an abstract, a title, an introduction, objectives, a methods section, results/findings, discussion of findings, conclusion/recommendations, acknowledgments, and references. Some will also include subheadings such as problem statement, literature review, and funding footnote. The duration for each paper presentation also varies but usually will not exceed 30 minutes.

Because of this lack of uniformity in conference paper format, it is compulsory that you first check the conference conventions and paper submission guidelines of the conference organizer before you start writing your conference paper. You can find this information on the conference organizer’s website and/or brochure. This is very important because not adhering to such rules can lead to the rejection of your conference paper, even if it is of very high quality.

Sample conference paper format

The following format below is based on a sample conference paper format  by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The organization has also provided guidelines on the contents of each of the sections. 

Title

The title of your conference paper should be specific, concise, and descriptive. Hence, words that are not necessary should not be included. In these days of search engine optimization, be sure to include keywords that will make finding your paper easier for searching readers.

Abstract

The abstract should be nothing more than a concise summary of key aspects of the research. It is important to include the study’s conclusions as well as their likely implications. In a nutshell, your conference paper abstract should also:

  • be single paragraphed, at least 250 words long, written in correct grammar and simple terminology
  • be self-contained. Avoid abbreviations, mathematical equations, footnotes, and references
  • explain the unique features of your study
  • contain between 3 to 5 keywords or phrases that appropriately explain the research so that readers can easily find the paper

Funding footnote

Was your study funded by an external source? If yes, be sure to indicate the identity of the funder and the grant information in a footnote on the paper’s first page. 

Introduction

  • Begin the introduction with a brief overview of the present state of research on the chosen topic
  • As you progress, provide more detailed information about the topic
  • Conclude this section with an explanation of your study‚Äôs research question(s) (or hypothesis). Do not forget to include what motivated you to study the topic and what impact you hope it will make

Methods

The methods section is of extreme importance and must provide enough information to facilitate replication of the study by other scholars.

For your research question(s), they must be constructed with the following in mind: 

  • Should be described in great detail
  • Be appropriately linked with the methods used to address them
  • Provision of clear definitions for all terminology used
  • Should include any equations used in the study

Results and discussion

This section involves a simple explanation of the important findings of your study and the interpretation of these findings/results. Be sure to include any limitations you faced while conducting the research and do not overstate the importance of your findings.

Conclusion

Your conclusion should be based on your study’s key findings and their wider implications. Explain what benefits or otherwise inherent in your study and provide suggestions for future research.

Acknowledgments

This is an optional section that has to do with a recognition of every individual and organization that provided any form of assistance or encouragement that helped during the course of your work. 

References

Every source cited in your conference paper must appear in the reference section. Include only those citations that support your study.

Final comments

Conference papers have some similarities but often can also vary from one conference to another. A typical conference paper should include an abstract, a title, an introduction, objectives, a methods section, results/findings, discussion of findings, conclusion/recommendations, acknowledgments, and references. Some will also have sections such as problem statement, literature review, and funding footnote.

Because of the lack of uniformity in conference paper format, it is essential to first check the conference conventions and paper submission guidelines of the conference organizer before starting to write a conference paper to avoid any penalties such as rejection of the paper.