As you go further into the advanced coursework of your specific major, not only do you get the chance to study interesting things in greater detail, you also get the opportunity to begin participating in the scholarly conversations going on in your field. Academic journals and conferences are a gathering place for discussions about issues in certain fields, or even more refined subtopics within those issues. These journal or conference organizers will put out requests for submissions; you can get these requests from a variety or sources, including faculty, through websites that aggregate theses requests for multiple topics, from the organizer’s website, or even from billboards around campus.
These requests are usually referred to as a “CFP” (call for papers/presentations). CFPs rarely ask for a complete work to be submitted, but instead want a description of the work you think you could do to meet the publisher or organizer’s needs. Once you have a CFP you’d like to respond to, there is a handful of things you can do to help it rise to the top of the submissions pile.
- Know the due date. Most CFPs state very plainly when submissions will no longer be accepted. In order to be equally fair to everyone who responds, these deadlines are usually very firm. Try to submit your proposal as early as possible.
- Know the publication/conference. Try to get a feel for the content usually featured in your intended publication, or the type of presentation a conference may be seeking. Publications will sometimes have a common topic they’re looking to unite multiple authors under; conferences often have a theme the organizers would like the presentations to fit within. Writing a proposal that’s connected to the theme will help it get noticed.
- Read the CFP carefully. CFPs state exactly what type of discussion the paper or presentation is expected to feature. Everything you need to know about what to write is contained within.
- Know the audience. Is the journal you’re writing for aimed specifically at your field, or open to multiple interests? Is the conference attended mostly by faculty or by students at a place in their studies similar to your own? Anticipate what your audience already knows, and what you’ll need to explain.
- Write an engaging description. CFPs usually want between 300-500 words for the full proposal (but check your CFP to be sure). If you’ve read the CFP carefully, and anticipated how to explain your topic to your audience, this is where you demonstrate it. Anticipate a question your research can answer, offer the beginnings of that explanation, and explain how it’s relevant to the audience reading the publication or attending the conference. Be specific on how your work will fit in, but leave enough room to build interest in the reader of your proposal without restricting yourself; after all, you probably haven’t done a lot of research just yet.
- Write a concise abstract. Most CFPs, especially those for conferences, will request a short description of your topic, usually around 50 words or just a couple of sentences. This is necessary to help the reviewers of your proposal learn exactly what you want to do, but it will also probably end up as the program description for your presentation or as a teaser for the larger paper. If someone asked you to explain your work in two sentences, your answer is probably pretty close to what you’d write here.
These are just a few general tips that are applicable to most CFPs you’ll encounter, but just like you would with a class assignment, read the directions carefully. Presenting at a conference or being published in a peer-reviewed outlet is not only a great résumé/CV builder, but it’s also a great way to get more out of your academic experience. Don’t forget, the writing center is here to help you with all of your writing projects, including CFPs!