How to Write an Abstract

Noel Welsh
19 Apr 2018

How do you write an abstract for a (industry) conference talk proposal? I like to use a three paragraph structure. The first paragraph gives a quick overview of what attendees can expect to learn if they attend the talk. The second paragraph gives motivation and background—why should attendees care about what I have to say? The third and final paragraph goes into more detail on the points I intend to cover.

An abstract is a sales pitch to conference organizers and attendees. Conference organizers need to be convinced to accept the talk, and conference attendees need a reason to attend the talk. Luckily these two groups are looking for the same thing: evidence I have something interesting and coherent to say. Both are also short of time. I hope the organisers spend a bit more time on the abstract than can reasonably be expected of attendees but the quicker I can sell either group the better.

This explains why I want the first paragraph to overview my talk—so attendees who only read that far can decide if they want to attend. The organisers want a bit more detail, so the job in the remaining paragraphs is to convince them that the problem I’m addressing is important (and hence will get an audience) and that I have something to say about it. That’s all I need in an abstract, so three paragraphs should suffice.

If you have read this far you might want an example of the three paragraph structure. If so, you might wish to look over the previous three paragraphs…