Conference Paper Assignment

Overview of the Conference Paper

It may seem odd to stand up and read a paper to a room of people who are perfectly capable of reading.  But the conference paper, when well delivered, telegraphs important arguments in accessible, convincing, entertaining, and immediate ways.  Think of it as research with a personality (yours!).

The conference paper is a different genre than the formal research paper.  It gives just enough evidence to convince.  It spends more time (as a percentage of the total paper) explaining why the questions and answers matter.  It is less formal in style.

On a date that is convenient for everyone in our class, we’ll hold a mini-conference in which you’ll give a twenty-minute paper to your peers.  You may use PowerPoint slides if you want to show visual aids or passages from the text.  You will also be responsible for listening to your peers and offering respectable, helpful commentary as well as asking questions that may help them refine their ideas.

Learning Outcomes

  • To become more comfortable speaking in front of your peers.
  • To practice asking questions and offering commentary on other people’s conference papers.
  • To obtain feedback on your ideas before you commit them to the more formal research paper.
  • To gain some experience of the generic and modal requirements of the conference paper.


The golden rule of a good conference paper is “Remember your audience!”  Help people hear your brilliant ideas by giving them a lively, animated presentation.

  • If you must read your paper (and it is a good idea to read your first conference paper), WRITE it to be READ ALOUD.
  • Adopt a conversational style. Contractions, first-person voice, short sentences, subject-verb syntax, and a lively but simple vocabulary are all desirable in a conference paper.
  • Signpost the parts of your argument clearly. (“This paper has a very straightforward thesis.  I claim that editors of Shakespeare need to adopt a different set of guiding principles when we gloss early modern words.”  “What conclusion can we draw from this evidence?”  “Let’s move on to my second point.”  “Before I turn to my example from The Merchant of Venice, I’d like explain my terminology.”  “How do we determine if a word is a hard word?  I ask three questions of a word.”  “When we turn to the second text, ….”)
  • Practice reading your aloud. Make sure there are no tongue-twisters or infelicities in your paper.
  • Score it for reading aloud. Underline, boldface, leave white space, add accent marks – do anything that will remind you when and how to modulate your voice or take a breath.
  • PowerPoint slides are best used to support your talk. They should never compete with your talk. Use them to provide images, maps, and quotations. Never read your paper from PowerPoint slides.
  • Integrate quotations carefully into your paper. Make sure it is clear when you are quoting.  Personally, I like to read quotations on screen as the presenter reads; use your slides to indicate when and what you are quoting.
  • Deploy the least amount of evidence necessary to make your case. Do not overwhelm your listener with six passages if one passage will do.  (Trust your listener to extrapolate your argument to other cases.)
  • Do not EVER go over your allotted time. People will stop listening to you.