Notes from the CAAS Editorial Workshop, Fall 2003

Writing an Abstract for Professional Presentation

Robert Boughner, Barbara Gold, Judith P. Hallett, Barbara McManus, John Miller and Carole Newlands, Facilitators

What does an abstract need to contain?

1. First and foremost, for whom is your abstract written? The question of audience is always important, and especially so at CAAS, where we are aiming to make the program accessible to K-12 classics teachers (and hope to involve K-12 classics teachers in the program committee).

2. Your abstract must follow the express rules given by the sponsoring professional organization. It also needs to be attentive to details: classics is a detail-oriented field. Lack of attention to submission rules may lead to rejection of your abstract without consideration of its intellectual contribution.

3. A sentence stating a thesis, proposition, or mastering idea – preferably at the beginning.

4. A clearly stated argument or exposition.

a. What’s the "benchmark" for testing your clarity? – some suggested having your abstract read by another humanist.

b. Is specialized vocabulary really needed to make your point or does it detract from the clarity of your argument? Scrutinize the language to make sure that any technical terminology is lucid. Determine what technical terminology is necessary and clearly define such terms; avoid "jargon" and obfuscation.

5. A statement of the contribution of the paper to further knowledge.

a. Ask yourself why anybody ought to care about this argument. What is at stake?

b. Keep in mind the nature of the audience for this paper. Who is likely to be attending this conference? What knowledge can be taken for granted among this audience and what will they need to be told so they can follow your argument and appreciate its contribution to the field.

6. A summary of the evidence to be used; this needs to be comprehensively yet economically presented.

7. A concise review of the literature

a. Does your proposal further an ongoing tradition of scholarship on a question?

b. Does it take issue with a finding or tradition of scholarship?

c. Does it do both? (Workshop participants were divided about what proportion of an abstract ought to be devoted to the scholarly tradition, but all agreed that it cannot be ignored.)

In what ways are pedagogy submissions different?

1. Pedagogy submissions deal with such subjects as a specific course, class assignments or activities, ways to present a topic, etc. They are often less formal and do not require as much attention to the scholarly tradition, though reference to educational theories that underpin your approach can be very helpful.

2. Different organizations (CAAS and APA, for instance) have different policies with regard to feedback on abstracts. CAAS dedicates a strong effort to mentoring these abstracts into good papers, whereas the APA cannot give this help due to the large number of submissions.

a. Research what "mentoring" mission a given organization professes.

b. Refereeing and feedback of the sort that CAAS provides is very unusual.

On the question of handouts.

1. Number of handouts: 30 recommended at CAAS, 100 at the APA.

2. The handout is a valuable extension of a scholar’s talk, for a number of reasons.

a. It allows the speaker more time to develop a thesis during the talk and helps the audience follow the argument.

b. It enables members of the audience to reflect on the paper after the conference has concluded.

3. Everything in languages other than English should be translated for the benefit of all audience participants.