Abstract management is an extremely important part of the event planning process. After all, education is a top reason people attend conferences. But it’s not something that is traditionally taught in a class or course. Most meeting planners learn how to run a call for papers or abstracts while on the job.
To help further your skills, we’ve put together this overview of abstract management that explains what it is and how it typically works. We’ve also included some of the lessons and best practices we’ve learned over the past 45-plus years.
Whether you’re new to abstract management or a conference planning veteran who could use some new ideas and tips, you’re sure to find information that can help you save time and minimize challenges, all while sourcing the best content for your conference.
What is abstract management?
Broadly defined, abstract management is the process organizations use to choose topics and speakers for a conference.
Typically, a prospective speaker submits an abstract—or summary of a presentation topic, scientific or academic paper, or poster—through an online form for consideration. That abstract is reviewed and evaluated to determine whether it meets the criteria of the conference. If it does, the submitter may be invited to present at the conference.
There’s a lot of variation in exactly how this process works and which tools are used to manage it, depending upon the size and complexity of the event.
Smaller conferences (30-50 submissions or fewer) may use a combination of a simple web form, email, and spreadsheets to collect and evaluate submissions and communicate with submitters.
Larger conferences (over 50 submissions, multiple tracks, symposia, and/or session types) tend to use an abstract management system to track and manage the entire process.
What is an abstract management system?
An abstract management system is specialized software that is used to manage the process of submitting, reviewing, and publishing research and presentations for a conference. It provides a centralized place to collect all presentation proposals and track the status of these proposals.
The software consists of a series of forms that are used to collect all necessary data from submitters and reviewers. Submission forms are designed to gather information on identity, credentials and affiliations, and presentation or research topic. Review forms are used to provide an objective evaluation of each submission.
Other features of an abstract management system may include:
- Built-in communication tool to personalize, schedule, and send batch emails to submitters and reviewers
- Ability to build and run standard and custom reports
- Role-based dashboard to check the status of submissions and reviews
- Built-in tool to build your conference schedule
- Ability to publish abstract and presentations online or to a mobile event app
- Ability to collect secure payments for submission or registration
- Single sign-on (SSO) integration with an AMS or other database
How to set up and run a call for conference abstracts
While there is a general structure most organizations follow, exactly how you manage your call for abstracts will depend upon the size and complexity of your event and your specific objectives and requirements.
There are some general best practices and guidelines to follow that will make the process run smoother for you and for your submitters and reviewers.
Here is an outline of the basic steps, as well as questions and considerations you and your team should address.
Determine how your conference is going to be structured
Mapping out the structure of your event will tell you how much content you need to source. This includes:
- Are you organizing content into tracks or symposia
- Total number of sessions
- Session types (oral, poster, keynotes, breakouts, workshops, panels, etc.)
- Length of each session/type
Set your content goals
Establish content goals that align with your conference objectives to ensure you’re sourcing the right mix of topics and speakers, including:
- Key topic areas or categories that need to be covered
- DEI goals that may impact topic or speaker selection
Create your timeline
Have a clear understanding of your entire timeline, from start to finish. It helps to work backwards, starting from the date final event materials—like your online proceedings, printed program book, or mobile event app— need to be live or delivered. From there, you can continue to work backwards to set other key milestones, including:
- When do you want to open your abstract management site and start accepting submissions?
- For how long?
- On what date will you close the site?
- Are you only opening up the submission site to invited speakers? Or are you performing an open call for abstracts where you will need additional time to promote it?
- Will you accept any late-breaking abstracts? And if so, what does this timeline look like?
Some organizations accept submissions over several months. Others for just a few weeks. Regardless of your timeline, nearly 90% of submissions will come in just before your deadline, so be prepared!
- When will the review phase start and end?
- How many rounds of review are you planning? For instance, will your reviewers be asked to review each submission only once? Or will they perform an initial review (e.g., the abstract) and a final review (e.g., the full technical paper)?
It’s important to give your reviewers a reasonable amount of time to finish their review assignments—especially if they are volunteers who have other responsibilities outside of the conference.
- How much time will the selection committee need to sort through all reviews and make accept or reject determinations?
- How much time will it take to notify accepted authors and speakers?
- Will you need to collect additional information from selected submitters before finalizing event materials?
- How long will it take you to build the conference schedule?
- How much time will you need to collect any final presentation materials from presenters?
- Are you also using your abstract management system to collect materials from sponsors and exhibitors? If so, how much time do you want to allow for this?
Build your list of submission questions
This is perhaps the most important part of the process because it directly affects the quality of submissions you receive. It’s also going to dictate how you set up your submission form. So having a final list of questions to work with will save you the time and hassle of having to re-do your form later-on.
Before you build your list of questions, it’s important to understand:
- What information about the submission will you or your reviewers need to make a confident accept or reject decision?
- What information do you need from authors or speakers to finalize and publish event materials?
- In what format will you need this information?
- Are there any data points you’ll need to report on?
Some of the standard questions found on an abstract submission form include:
- Submitter name, contact information, and credentials, including any prior presentations or papers
- Co-author or co-presenter name, contact information, and credentials
- Paper or presentation title
- Abstract, or summary of the topic for consideration
- Learning objectives
- Session type, such as oral or poster, plenary, breakout, workshop, etc.
- Presentation length
- Specific availability (days and times) to assist with scheduling
Determine your review process
A well-designed and executed peer review makes it easy to select only the best papers and presentations for your event. As you’re building your review process and review form in your abstract management system, here are some questions to consider:
- How many reviewers do you need? How many do you ideally want to review each submission?
- How many times will they need to review a submission? For instance, will they review an entire submission all at once (abstract and full scientific paper together, as an example), or will they be asked to first review the abstract, score it, and then review only high-scoring papers?
- How will you assign submissions for review—manually, or auto-assigned by topic area?
- Are you planning a blind (reviewer can see the submitter’s identity) or double-blind (submitter’s identity is not visible) review process?
- Do you want reviewers to have the ability to recuse themselves if they have a noted conflict of interest?
- What scoring criteria will you use to determine whether to accept or reject a submission?
Build and test your abstract submission forms
After you have a firm understanding of your submission and review process, criteria, and questions, it’s time to set up your abstract management system and build your forms. This is something you can do yourself with a self-service abstract management software. Or if you select a full-service platform provider, they can handle all this work for you.
Before you open your call for abstracts, it’s important to test your submission forms, just as you would for a new website. Recruit volunteers both within and outside your organization to walk through the submission process and note any places they get stuck or confused.
Adding this step to your abstract management process will reduce confusion and frustration for your submitters, produce fewer technical support questions, and result in cleaner, more complete submissions.
Launch and promote your call for papers
Now that you have set up and tested your abstract management form and are ready to launch your call for papers, it’s time to advertise it.
If you’re inviting select speakers to submit an abstract or proposal, send an email with a link to the submission site. But if you’re looking to attract a broader pool of submitters, you’ll want to promote your call for papers in several different places, including:
- On your website
- Third-party websites
- Email campaigns and newsletters to your database
- At an upcoming conference or event
Managing a call for abstracts, papers, posters, and presentations may sound simple, but many meeting planners spend years perfecting it.
If you’re looking for more ideas and tips to perfect your own call for abstracts, visit our library of abstract management articles.