June 25-29, 2018


Tips on Writing Your Conference Paper: Getting Started

These notes, compiled and summarized from an AACE Conference presentation by Carmel McNaught and Sam Rebelsky, are written to assist new and experienced authors with the preparation of their conference papers prior to submission.


  1. The nature of a conference paper vs a journal article
  2. Why are conference papers refereed?
  3. Criteria commonly used for refereeing and therefore a valuable guide to writing
  4. Role of the literature
  5. Structure of the paper
  1. The nature of a conference paper vs a journal article
    • A journal article should contain the reporting of an essentially complete piece of work. A conference paper could be more appropriate for several reasons, such as:
      • The work is new.
      • It is one completed component of a larger project.
      • Whether it is best as a Brief Paper or a Full Paper is likely to depend on the degree of significance and the degree of completeness of the work.
      • Note that a Poster might be the most appropriate presentation mode to use for quite new work needing feedback.
      • Have a look at <http://www.aace.org/conf/edmedia/categories.htm> to get more information on types of EdMedia presentations. It is important that you make sure that your proposed paper is appropriate to the categories used for EdMedia.
  2. Why are conference papers refere ed?
    • To improve the quality of your paper
    • To gain government or institutional ‘brownie points’
    • To improve the quality of the conference for attendees, so that the program has the best selection possible
  3. Criteria commonly used for refereeing and therefore a valuable guide to writing
    • Relevance – to the conference topics and to the area of education in general. The ideas in the work need to be usable by others.
    • Quality of work – showing some originality (Is it worth while for colleagues to read this paper?), well planned, context well explained, etc.
    • Scholarly – showing an awareness of good practice. For example, in papers which are reports on actual projects, it is essential to include some evidence of reflection and evaluation. The work also should be grounded in relevant literature (see below).
    • Style of presentation – must to be written in a suitable academic style and in clear and accessible English. Diagrams and tables should be used appropriately.
  4. Role of the literature
    • This should assist the story of the paper. A few points here:
      • Full and complete citations are important. Citations indicate that you understand the relationship of your work to other peoples’ work, that you are not just ‘reinventing the wheel’. They also assist readers who wish to find other relevant work in your area.
      • Long lists of references may be appropriate in a theoretical paper. A smaller number of references to key principles may be all that is needed in a more practical paper. Referees (most anyway) are not fooled by long lists of unnecessary references.
      • Being quite clear about the use of terms is vital. A vague reference to being constructivist is not acceptable (this is a very common problem). Unpacking the principles on which your work is based is crucial.
  5. Structure of the paper
    • Look at past conference proceedings. EdMedia proceedings are available on CD-Rom and will soon be in the AACE Digital Library. If you have access to a previous EdMedia program, you might like to examine the papers that were given ‘Best Paper’ awards.
    • Be clear and accurate about the title. Catchy is OK, but with clear meaning. The title is what will determine whether many colleagues attend a conference session.
    • Plan the papers with clear headings.
    • Use clear and concise English. Avoid the use of unnecessary ‘jargon’. It is acceptable to write in the first person when describing work that the author(s) have actually done.
    • Work out carefully what diagrams are useful. Be careful about using screen dumps. Make sure they are a) interpretable and readable, and b) add value to the paper.
    • Make sure the opening sentences of your Abstract and your first section are not identical. Your Abstract should be a succinct summary of the whole paper and not just an introduction.
    • Do not submit a paper which promises that ‘data will be collected and analysed before the conference’. A referee cannot evaluate the value or quality of the work not yet done.
    • Read any guidelines carefully and adhere to them – length, formatting, etc. Please note that very short papers will be automatically rejected. It is also inappropriate to submit something that is clearly a long chapter from a recent thesis; it will almost certainly be rejected. The paper submitted mustbe an essentially complete Full or Brief paper.
    • Always provide attributions where the work of others has been used. If you alter it, use ‘after’, e.g. (Figure x. Title. After McNaught, 2001).
    • Give complete references. In particular, note that online references need to have the date of accession of the URL recorded. There are many online sites that give guidance on APA style. Check that any you use are current. University libraries often have nice guides.
    • Use a spell checker!
    • Use a grammar checker. You don’t have to accept all the suggestions, but they are often correct.
    • For authors with relatively little experience, the peer review of a few colleagues is invaluable.