Abstract Guidelines

by Dr. Sarah J. Greenwald

Writing an abstract is an important part of giving a talk. An abstract for a talk should be thought of as an advertisement of the talk content that others can read in order to decide whether they wish to attend. At conferences, there are often many talks that occur at the same time. Hence, people use abstracts to decide which talk to attend from among possibly many talks that they are interested in at the given time.

Conference abstracts are usually due many months before a conference. Hence, it is not imperative that you follow the abstract exactly when presenting the talk, since many people find that by the time they prepare their talk, related but new material is of interest. An abstract should be your best guess of what you will talk about in the allowed space. It should also include some big picture ideas that discuss the importance and relevance of your talk content and place it into the bigger context of related fields.

Abstracts are usually a few paragraphs long, and sometimes have space limitations on the number of characters or words. Your abstract will be less than 250 words. While the final talk may well be different, the abstract should be at least loosely adhered to since otherwise talk attendees will be confused and sometimes angry that the talk was unrelated to what you said it would be. After all, attendees are giving their valuable time to you, and might instead have chosen a different talk.

The first step in writing an abstract is to choose a title. The title should be chosen carefully to summarize the content of your talk. Some people may not read the abstract (it is sometimes published in a separate book from the schedule), and may use only the title in order to decide whether they will attend.

The following are some examples of various titles and abstracts:
  • Simpsons Rule: Mathematical Morsals from The Simpsons

  • Using WebCT Instruction in Courses You Never Thought You Could

  • Tracing the Historical Progression of Mathematics and the Changing Roles of Women and Minority Mathematicians with Student Projects