Organiser Time Traps #1 – Abstract Submission

25 October 2013, 02:59 pm

There is a lot of hidden admin work involved in running a conference. First-time organisers may not be aware just how much there is. In this series of posts we look at the time traps that await organisers and how to avoid them. In our first post we focus on the admin time savings in the abstract submission process.

Manual Abstract Submission

Some conferences manage abstracts and communicate with authors using a manual system of Excel, Word and email. This can work well for small conferences. However, for a conference with 50 or more submissions, the admin time involved can become very taxing. Firstly, you have to set up a manual system to track and manage abstracts, typically in an excel file. Then the process goes something like this:

  • When an author emails their abstract submission, you open it and check that the format is correct. While you can tell your authors what format you require in advance, email can’t verify the format for you.
  • You may require a word limit on their paper or abstract submissions. Again, it’s not easy to verify this by email. One option is to cut and paste each abstract into Word and check the word count. While it seems like a small point, when you have to do it for 300 abstracts it can waste a vast amount of time.
  • If the author has made a mistake in format or word limit, you will have to email them back with the required amendment, which will take up even more time.
  • You have to store the abstract detail somewhere. You’ll cut and paste the submission into Excel with columns for title, abstract name, author name, email address, etc. If a file is required, it needs to be stored somewhere with a link in the Excel file. This work is uninspiring and adds nothing of proper value to the conference.
  • You then need to email the authors (and any co-authors) to confirm receipt. Then if an author makes a change to the abstract submission before deadline closes, you need to update the Excel file and any attachments. You’ll also have to notify all the authors confirming that the accepted change.

All this manual, tedious work adds up. It can easily take 5-10 minutes to check and store each abstract manually and notify the author.  Say on average it takes 7 minutes.  In a conference with 300 abstract submissions, it could add at least 35 hours to your schedule just to collect abstracts alone!

7  mins x 300 abstracts = 2,100 mins.

That’s 35 hours of admin time in Abstract Submission alone.

Plus most conferences receive lots of submissions on deadline day (approximately 46% as we discovered in a previous post), and manually managing hundreds of submissions and authors over a 2-3 day period can be a nightmare.

Online Abstract Submission

So how much time can an online system save? Ex Ordo has an interactive calculator which breaks down the admin time-savings for conferences of all sizes.

  • In an online system, authors submit and update directly online, keeping your inbox clutter-free.
  • You configure how you want the submissions to look and authors have to follow your format, or their submission will be marked as incomplete.
  • You can add a word limit to the abstract, which is monitored by the system. Authors can’t proceed to the next stage if they are over the limit.
  • Authors can submit and update their submissions right up until deadline day.
  • Authors and all co-authors are automatically notified when their paper is submitted and when any changes are made.
  • The stress of deadline day is minimised as an online system can manage any number of abstracts and author communication automatically.
  • All data is stored online, hence no version control needed.

Setting up an online abstract submission system should take about 30 mins regardless of conference size.  A conference with 300 abstracts can save over 34 hours of admin time just in the abstract submission phase alone.  Try the Ex Ordo time saver calculator to see the potential time savings for your conference.

An added bonus of having the data online is that you can share the workload with your committee more easily. For example, one committee member can be given the responsibility for Communications (inviting authors, inviting reviewers, syncing with the website etc.), which leaves less of a burden on the shoulders of the Chair.

So now that we’ve looked the time traps in abstract submission, in the next post we’ll take a closer look at time trap #2 – Allocating Abstracts to Reviewers.

Happy Conferencing!