Writing an abstract submission for an oral presentation at a conference

By Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald and Dr Luke Gahan on January 2, 2024

In this post, we share some tips for writing research or practice focused abstracts for an oral presentation at a conference. Collectively, we have wide experience in writing research abstracts for conference submissions and presenting at conferences in various areas of sociology, psychology, and social work. We have reviewed conference abstract submissions and planned conference programs. 

Dr Luke Gahan is a Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at La Trobe University. Luke’s sociological research has focused on families and relationships, health and wellbeing, and gender and sexuality. He was previously an associate editor of Health Sociology Review and a secretary of The Australian Sociological Association.

About conference abstract submissions

When conference organisers are looking to fill their program with speakers, they generally call out for possible presenters to submit an abstract.

An abstract is a short overview of the content that would be covered in the proposed presentation. It is the pitch for your presentation.

Conferences will usually have an overarching theme and a series of streams (or sub-themes) and ask people submitting abstracts to match their submission under one or more of these streams. When the conference organisers are putting together their program of speakers, they are looking for the best submissions that match the conference streams or themes. Depending on the size of the conference, your abstract could be compared to hundreds of other abstracts.

Depending on the discipline, the conference may also give you the option to select the type of presentation you would like to give. The options may include:

Each of these options have different characteristics and it is always best to read the conference website to ensure you have chosen the most appropriate format for your research and one which you feel comfortable with. Sometimes if you do not get accepted for the format you chose when submitting your abstract, you may be offered another one. 

The length of abstract submissions and presentation times varies from conference to conference. We have found that abstract lengths are usually restricted to around 250 words and that oral presentations are usually around 20 minutes long (plus or minus 5-10 minutes of questions). This is usually outlined in the ‘call for abstracts’ on the conference website.

Tips for writing an abstract submission

Tips for writing a symposium submission

Some conferences allow you to put together a symposium submission. A symposium is usually a group of speakers you have organised into a session for the conference. You generally need to provide an abstract for the session as a whole and separate abstracts for each presentation. 

The abstract tips apply here too, but there are some additional considerations:

What conference reviewers are looking for in symposium submissions

Unlike an oral presentation, a symposium will take up much more space in the conference program. Therefore, you need to convince the reviewers of the value of the symposium even more than a single oral presentation abstract. Remember, your proposal is likely taking up 3 or 4 oral presentation spots in the conference program.

Reviewers are looking for:

Example abstracts

Here is a recent example of an abstract submission for an oral presentation that was accepted.

What works in community-based group counselling to improve resilience in children (6-14 years): A rapid literature review

This presentation provides insights from a rapid literature review focused on community-based counselling interventions aimed at improving resilience amongst children aged 6-14 years. The aim was to determine what types of interventions are most effective in supporting children in the general population with a focus on prevention and mental health promotion, facilitated by non-clinicians / non-specialists. The review sample consisted of 9 international literature reviews and 3 Australian primary data studies published since 2019. Evidence mostly comes from interventions in school settings by a combination of teaching staff and professional mental health practitioners. Firstly, this presentation will provide a map of risk and protective factors associated with resilience at the individual, family, community and cultural levels. Second, findings relating to what works in community-based interventions will be presented, divided into three intervention types: psychoeducational, relaxation/mindfulness and counselling with art. This content covers features of interventions as well as multiple resilience and wellbeing related outcomes. Third, practice insights for what good practice looks like will be presented. To supplement this third area, additional evidence synthesis insights are provided relating to what good practice in counselling looks like more generally. This will focus on common factors across intervention types that have been shown to account for as much as 85% of the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions and mostly relate to client factors, practitioner skills and qualities and the therapeutic alliance between client and practitioner (i.e., factors not relating to the therapeutic model adopted).

Dr Jasmine B. MacDonald, submitted to 2024 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Conference

Below are some other examples of accepted oral presentation abstracts. You can see more like this on the Talks page of this website.


By Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash