►Respond to the call
When writing a proposal for a conference paper, respond carefully to the call by following the leads provided. Refer directly to the call for proposals (CFP) by clearly outlining how your paper will address and approach the topics (or selected topics) specified in the CFP. Repeat and highlight key words and terms from the CFP in your proposal, clearly demonstrating the connections between the CFP’s topics and the content of your paper. Draw attention to ways in which your paper engages with the themes of the conference. Match your paper to the details of the call. Do not try to lead, and do not change the dance. Follow the lead carefully and creatively, providing a clear and exciting picture of the original dance that will result from the response of your paper to the points made in the invitation to submit and participate. If requested, situate your paper within appropriate scholarship. Always stay within the length requirements (typically 250-500 words), and provide exactly what is requested in terms of components to accompany the proposal, such as a biography, abstract, and key words.
►Engage the vetters of your proposal
Remember that the audience for your proposal will be experts vetting the submitted proposals and not the conference audience to whom you will be delivering your actual paper. Picture the vetters, and pitch the proposal to this panel of readers by demonstrating your clear understanding of the make-up of the conference audience. The vetters of proposals are looking for matches: papers that closely follow the topics and themes of the call and conference, that are appropriate in scope for the time allotted (usually twenty minutes), and that are geared to the expertise and experience of the audience. Do this matching work for them by being acutely aware of the make-up of the conference audience, particularly whether the audience is discipline specific, interdisciplinary, or general. Be concise in your thinking and your style. Use clear language. Engage the reader of your proposal by providing a strong and appealing argument. Proposals signalling papers that will be too general, too long, too specific, pedantic, or inaccessible will be rejected.
►Seek feedback on your proposal from peers and mentors
Do not try to dance alone. There is a tendency to treat the conference paper proposal like a secret document, partly because it is often vetted anonymously and also because it may be rejected. Resist this tendency by sharing your proposal with others and seeking feedback and advice. Provide peers and mentors with the CFP and your proposal, asking if the proposal answers the calls and leads of the CFP. By this point in the process, you may not be able to answer this question effectively. You are a partner in the dance and can benefit from external evaluations offered by observers of that dance.
►Finally ... to avoid any missteps
Edit and proofread ruthlessly to ensure that you submit a professional, formal, accessible, concise, and error-free proposal. Above all, convey your knowledge of your area and your passion about your topic. Persuade your readers that this paper will be an original, exciting, and appropriate contribution to the conference—exactly what is asked for.
Submitted by Margaret Steffler, Department of English Literature, Trent University
Next (February 15, 22): “Putting Together and Proposing a Panel,” by Åsa Warnqvist
Banner image of PEI waves. Anne Victoria Photography, 2018