Conference Paper Proposal Assignment (Pose a Question and Propose an Answer)

The Task in Brief

Find a CFP (Call for Papers) on a topic/theme/author/subject that interests you and on which you have something to say.

You may choose to respond to the ACCUTE General Call for Papers. (See the proposal submission form and the FAQs.) You are also welcome to find and respond to another CFP. I’ve set Nov. 14 as the due date for this assignment so that I can give you feedback before the real ACCUTE proposal deadline of Dec. 22. If I think your proposal is worth submitting, I’ll let you know. You might get your first conference presentation out of this assignment!

What to Hand In: Just the proposal. (If you do submit your proposal to ACCUTE, I’ll help you with the bio-bibliographical note and the abstract.) Hand in a double-sided printout of your proposal. However you choose to handle footnotes and citations, make sure you are consistent throughout your proposal!


Your first professional scholarly activity will likely be a conference.  Conferences are wonderful opportunities to share your ongoing research, get feedback on your work, find out what other people in your field are working on, talk to peers, network with more senior people in the field, and talk to publishers at the book fair.  To give a paper at a conference, you first have to submit a proposal (also known as an abstract, proposal abstract, or summary).  Dr. Karen Kelsky defines the proposal thus:  “Usually between 200 and 500 words long, it is a short abstract that describes research/a talk/a journal article that you are GOING to write.   This [genre] is in contrast to the abstract of the research/dissertation/article that you have already written” (  The conference proposal and subsequent conference paper are often steps along the way to a print publication.  I don’t wholly agree with Dr. Kelsky’s six-step formula – she is a social scientist while I am a humanist —  but you can compare our respective approaches and decide which one works best for your paper.

Learning Outcomes

  • To familiarize yourself with the genre of the conference proposal.
  • To refine your RQs and make your claim(s) with more certainty.
  • To start relating what you say to what other critics have said.


Submit a 300-500 word proposal for a 20-minute conference paper.  Follow my six-step formula or Dr. Kelsky’s formula.  Here’s my formula:

  1. Problem: State the problem, puzzle, new discovery, and/or critical oversight that inspired your question(s). [Since your question may well emerged from primary source(s) and/or from criticism, it’s often appropriate to mention names and titles right away.]
  2. Questions: State the question(s) that you will answer in this paper.
  3. Answer: Indicate your answer(s) to this question.  In the proposal, it’s okay to reverse your answer and methodology, depending on what works better for your material.
  4. Methodology: State your methodology.  Note that there are two simple ways to ensure that your work is new:  (1) Apply a new reading strategy[1] to an old text or an old problem; (2) Apply a familiar reading strategy to a new text or a new problem.  As you state your methodology, highlight what is new about your approach. [If your methodology depends on work done by other critics, cite them here.]
  5. Materials: Indicate which texts or which data you will examine.  What are your primary research subjects/materials?  Note that your primary texts may be critical texts if the critical texts themselves are the objects of your inquiry. [Here is another logical point to cite your primary sources.]
  6. Importance: Say why we need to answer this question, and how your answer changes scholarship.


  • Deploy concrete verbs. (See my list of active verbs.)
  • Use the first person judiciously. In our discipline, “I argue…” is often better than “This paper argues….”  Remember, however, that your paper is about ideas, not about you, so you shouldn’t need to begin every sentence with “I.”
  • Be assertive. “I argue that…” is always better than “I think that….”
  • Here’s a list of just a few reading strategies (i.e., methodologies), many of which are already very familiar to you:
    • compare two texts
    • locate a text within a tradition
    • bring new information to bear on something
    • read the text biographically as the utterance of a particular author
    • read the text socially as the product of a cultural moment
    • read the text as it would have been read and/or received by its first reader(s) or by particular readers at any particular point in the history of the transmission of the text
    • put the text/author into a new context (e.g., other works printed by the same printer, other works owned by a particular collector/library)

Tips from ACCUTE: What Makes a Good Paper Proposal?


First of all, a good submission is professional in quality. It adheres to all of the guidelines for submission, and stays within word limits for the paper/proposal and for attachments (abstract, biographical statement). It is lucidly written and error-free.

Second, it has a point or an argument to make, and does this clearly and strongly. The scholarly interest or importance of the presentation should be easily discernible by the vettors.

Third, it presents its argument in a way that would be intelligible to someone outside the specialty field. Remember that ACCUTE is a generalist conference, and that the audience for your session could be equally general.

Fourth, it is achievable within a tight time period. ACCUTE conference presentations are strictly timed for 20 minutes (and sometimes 15). A twenty-minute paper is 8 or 9 double-spaced pages in length. Simplify and streamline.

Finally, it fulfills the ambitions and values that the ACCUTE Equity Statement seeks to uphold.