Writing and presenting a good conference paper

Tim Kenyon

Philosophy, University of Waterloo


A good conference paper has a good idea – some interesting and relatively novel position to defend.  But this is merely a necessary condition, not a sufficient one.  Here are other hallmarks of a good conference paper, in my view, and in the view of Waterloo Philosophy faculty members who threw in some excellent suggestions.


The Paper







The Presentation









Damage control

á                Timing problems:  You have an inattentive time-keeper who allowed an earlier talk to run on.  Now youŐre left with less than your allotted time.  What can you do?  It helps to flag a few paragraphs of your paper in advance as ones you could skip over if necessary, perhaps just reading one key sentence that you highlight in advance.  This is much better than speaking as usual until time runs out, then hurriedly skipping all the way to the conclusion.  You can always just invoke the key ideas contained in a few paragraphs, plead lack of time, and offer to justify those claims in the question period if necessary.

á                Interruptions:  Sometimes an audience member will repeatedly interrupt your talk, and the chair will not intervene.  The acceptability of this approach varies from one discipline to the next, so donŐt assume that this is hostility or rudeness.  If you find the questions or comments disruptive, just politely say that the questioner may find an answer in what you are going to say later, so youŐd like to reserve all questions until after the talk.

á                Persistent questioners:  The Q&A can be a great opportunity to get into a fairly detailed discussion of a point raised in your paper.  This will often involve a questioner who asks one or two follow-up questions to your initial answer.  If a questioner is going on too long, though, and dominates the discussion period to no useful effect, the session chair is supposed to intervene, in order to move things along.  Session chairs sometimes fail in this duty.  So you should feel free to reply politely that you see the general issue being raised, but would prefer to let others join the discussion too – then move on to the next questioner.