Presenting a paper at a conference is a wonderful opportunity to share your work, meet other researchers and enthusiasts, and test out your ideas. But then, once the excitement of the conference is over, figuring out how to best transform a relatively short conference paper into a polished article can be intimidating.

Typically, a conference paper shares just one or two unique observations or assertions, often taken from a larger work in progress. A journal article, however, is a final product that communicates a complete, extended discussion of an idea, supported by multiple examples and past research or theories. Therefore, one of the first things to consider when turning your conference paper into something suitable for a journal is the structure. Take the observations or assertions you presented, reflect on why they are unique, and then make them the heart and soul of your new argument by exploring what makes them significant, important, or just plain interesting in light of other research on the topic or what you learned at the conference or both.    

Once you’ve thought about the heart of your argument, keep these three strategies in mind:

Use What You Learned 

Take note of all the things you learned at the conference. What questions were you asked after your conference session? What interesting conversations did you have with other attendees? What notes did you take during the conference keynote? What did you learn about the conference theme from other presenters? All of these areas might inspire new directions for your own work or lead you to sources that will enrich your argument.

Do Your Homework

Before you hit “submit,” spend some time studying the journal to which you will be submitting. Read back issues, get to know the audience for the journal, familiarize yourself with the journal’s style guide, and study the journal’s mission and focus. Set yourself up for success by adapting your paper for this specific journal. Past articles will show you the tone and style of the journal; you might even cite from these past articles in your own work. Successfully published articles are those that are clearly situated within the context of the journal, rather than in the context of their conference paper origins.

Be Clear

Remember that when you presented your work at the conference, you were there to answer follow-up questions and provide additional examples, but the readers of a journal will not have that luxury. Perhaps you shared visuals with the audience at the conference, but you may not be able to use them in some publications. In addition, journal readers will not have the thematic context of the conference, nor perhaps the background knowledge that conference attendees may have had. In the article, then, be sure you clearly and thoroughly develop your ideas. Define discipline-specific terms, provide attribution for sources, and thoroughly review the literature or theories that ground your argument so that all readers can follow your argument.

With some careful revision, you can successfully publish and share the exciting ideas you developed for a conference.

Submitted by Emily Woster (University of Minnesota Duluth),
founding co-editor of the Journal of L.M. Montgomery Studies

Next (April 26, May 3): “Considerations around Copyright, Permissions, and Creative Commons,” by Kate Scarth

Banner image of PEI waves. Anne Victoria Photography, 2018