Entering into Outreach in the Field: Rules for Preparing Your Proposal

In an effort to help those less experienced in the area of proposal writing, John P. Summerlot put together a list of 11 important rules regarding preparations for a conference in his article with the Eighth Vector (2008). Though with more of a focus from ACPA, his rules are informative regardless of the conference experience one is trying to enter into. I wanted to take his rules and reiterate their importance and add a little extra perspective to help others entering into the proposal writing process.

  1. Stick to What You Know: In an effort to impress, it is not surprising that some would try to delve into topics that may be hot items right now but not significant interest areas for that person. It is always better to go with a topic area that is a passion of your or you at least have some direct experience with.
  2. Go With Something Unique and Timely: Choosing a topic that is a little too narrow in a niche (though possibly very interesting) or choosing the topic that everyone else wants to present on can backfire if you cannot bring something to the table that will engage and impress. Finding a balance between the two can help make your program be a standout feature of the conference (i.e. using media resources as a gauge of the student assessment of campus safety in the wake of mass shooting incidents).
  3. Know Your Audience: While you would love the program to appeal to everyone, it is not usually possible to be able to craft that perfect session. Still, you want to try to appeal to as large of a population as possible, so avoid focusing on topics that are overly focused and try to make it as interdisciplinary as possible.
  4. Raise the Interest Factor: Sometimes, you best efforts may not yield your best results. Try writing the abstract, or at least reviewing it, on different days and under different conditions. Make sure that you are articulating your focus but also highlighting what is unique and engaging about your specific presentation.
  5. Don’t Do This Alone: Getting someone you trust to proofread and analyze your proposal can be one of the greatest differences between selection or rejection. Grammar issues and spelling errors may not completely derail an attempt but they can make it a tough path to get through.
  6. Be Clear Throughout the Proposal: It is important that all parts of the proposal match an support each other, but it is even more vital that the abstract and the description of the program both highlight the topic, purpose and outcomes of your session.
  7. Create an Open Environment: Sessions feel a little less stale if there is a chance for audience participation. Being able to articulate that somewhere in the proposal is beneficial to selection, both by the committee and the attendees at conference time.
  8. Keep It Real: While conferences are times to convey important research or discuss scholarly issues, stuffiness and emphasizing the intellectual side of the session could actually backfire (and so could being too casual with the topic). Balance is important to both emphasize the importance of the topic and make the topic accessible to a broad audience.
  9. Aim High But Not Always for the Moon: Having lofty goals can be okay but they can also be a deterrent. Promising to save the world can be a little too ambitious for those are seeking more trust in the presenters they hope to observe. At the same time, it is impossible to promise that every solution will work at every institution. Providing a framework to take back to individual institutions allows attendees to see if and how they can adapt your findings or recommendations to their environments.
  10. Tracking Can Be Beneficial: While getting too narrow can be detrimental to successfully attracting a crowd, tracking can actually help identify the type of audience you are searching for. Hosting a session that focuses on promising practices may not be during the peak session blocks but could also attract the more dedicated professionals that are willing to came early and stay late to attend your session.
  11. Rules are Guidelines, NOT Restrictions: I know that is a little off in terms of the definition of rules, but the concept here is that you should not get bogged down by the rules or requirements that people share in terms of conference proposals. If you want to be unconventional in terms of your topic, you should go for it. The comments from others are suggestions and recommendations, not carved in stone.
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