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What is a conference paper?

The word “conference” literally means” a meeting of two or more persons for discussing matters of common concern.” It is believed that the first use of the word was in 1527. But prior to the word’s emergence, humans have always met and discussed matters of common concern since time immemorial. Archeological findings have captured ancient forms of conferences with diverse agendas such as organizing tribal festivities, making arrangements for hunting, and wartime discussions, among others.

Conference papers are a more modern phenomenon that intensified with the entrenchment of formal education. Just like in ancient times, modern conferences also cover a vast range of matters, including science, technology, economics, politics, etc. The emergence of ICT and digital technology has now extended conferences to the internet in the form of video conferences.

In an educational context, therefore, a conference may be defined as a gathering of like-minded researchers, scholars, professionals, and other experts to interact and exchange ideas that will further enhance the stock of knowledge in a particular field. 

Conference paper explained

Unlike a journal paper or a term 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 manuscript is scrutinized by two or more referees or reviewers similar to a journal paper. Rejected papers will not be part of the conference. The presentation is usually oral and may be aided by visuals and software such as PowerPoint.

Often, the paper is later published in the conference proceedings to reach a wider audience. In academia and librarianship, a conference proceeding is a collection of academic papers published in an academic conference or workshop. Conference proceedings typically contain the contributions made by researchers at the conference. 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.

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.

Note that conference papers and journal articles are a bit different from each other albeit both serve as avenues for introducing new scientific findings and procedures. Conference papers focus primarily on exploring new ideas, sometimes new ideas that haven’t been fleshed out yet. The number of pages of a conference paper also tends to be fewer than a journal paper, although this depends on the conventions of the conference.

Conference and Journal compared


Usually held at a physical venue for a number of days.
Mere publishing outlets that do not require large human gatherings before publications.
  Conference papers are delivered at conferences and are published in conference proceedings  Journal articles are contained in academic journals published in print and electronic mediums.  
Held at fairly long intervals (often annually)    Published more regularly (e.g., monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly)
Does not require a lot of pagesAlso does not require many pages
Conference papers are usually reviewedJournal articles also undergo peer review
Are usually presented orally in front of an audience

Does not require oral presentation  

Importance of conference papers

  • They are used to determine those that will participate in the conference through a review process (i.e., you must first send your conference paper to be eligible for participation in the upcoming conference).
  • They help give birth to new/original scientific findings
  • They are used to educate audiences
  • They serve as citations and references for other academic papers
  • Presenting papers at conferences helps to boost your CV for employment and career advancement purposes, especially for tertiary-level academic staff

Conference paper presentation tips

Prepare adequately

Adequate preparation is important for succeeding in any human endeavor and a conference paper presentation is no different. Consider yourself a teacher entering the classroom to disseminate knowledge to learners. Therefore, you need to study your paper repeatedly prior to the conference to make sure you internalize all the important information inside it. Remember that conference proceedings usually include questions and answer sessions so you must be adequately prepared since questions can come from any part of your paper.

Conquer stage fright

Though there is nothing to fear about, stage fright is usually experienced by first-time and young presenters who are a little bit overwhelmed by the occasion or size of the audience. If you notice early signs of stage fright, try to take deep breaths and be as calm as possible. The more you talk, the more confident you’ll become, and with time the fright usually disappears. You may also want to rehearse your presentation in front of a familiar audience such as your friends and professional colleagues. Such rehearsals will help get you used to the conference environment which can imply little or no stage fright.

Look at your audience

Do not forget to frequently maintain eye contact with your audience while presenting your paper. Shying away from your audience can make them feel you lack the confidence to face an audience and can make the organizers feel you have poor presentation skills. 

Use visuals if necessary

Though you will not have time to speak elaborately, consider using visuals if you and the conference organizers feel it will enrich the paper. Visuals help make things clearer for the audience for a better understanding.

Present according to the allotted time

If you have been allotted 25 minutes to speak, try to tailor your presentation accordingly. It will appear inconsiderate and unprofessional if you encroach into the time reserved for other presenters or conference activities. Note that it is not necessary to present every word in your paper verbatim. Just discuss the information you feel is most important and leave the rest to be read up by anybody interested.

Present convincingly

You have to convince every member of the audience (which may include senior colleagues and potential employers) that you possess the necessary in-depth knowledge about the subject matter you are presenting. This is the more season why meticulous preparation is crucial if you want to speak authoritatively and impress your curious audience.


A conference paper is an article presented at a conference. But the paper has to be submitted before the start of the conference for review and approval. A paper that is not approved will not make it to the conference. Apart from being a written document, a conference paper is also presented orally during the conference.

All papers presented at a conference may be published as part of the conference proceedings. Conference paper formats vary according to each particular conference. They are important for a number of reasons. For instance, they are sources of new or original scientific research and can help enhance a CV for employment and career development.