11 Tips for setting up abstract management software

6 minute read

Sourcing abstract management software for your upcoming conference? Here are 11 things you need to do before you configure it.

Good abstract management software is a non-negotiable when you’re organising a research conference. Simple as. But here’s the catch: this software can only do its job if you configure it correctly. You’d be surprised how many organisers don’t and are forced to make on-the-fly decisions, carry out unnecessary manual checks or clarify confusion among authors, reviewers or delegates.

Plenty has changed in the world since the pandemic. And, when you’re stressing about running your event physical, virtual, or hybrid, it can be easy to miss important details in your submission process. But it’s well known that one of the best places to make a great first impression on delegates is through your abstract management software.

So, how can you start building your event reputation in the best possible way? Be sure to consider these 11 conference planning tips before configuring your abstract management system.

1. Define your submission parameters

You’ve already decided whether you’re collecting abstracts or papers. Great. But have you considered whether you want authors to upload their bios? Or if you want student submissions to be flagged as such?

Any good abstract management software will allow you to configure your submissions form so you get exactly what you need from authors. The best platforms will do this in an intuitive manner, relieving any stress on your authors in the process. So, before you open submissions, figure out the configuration options in your abstract management platform and ensure your conference has the setup it needs.

2. Decide how you’ll allocate submissions within your abstract management software

When it’s configured correctly, an abstract management system can save you an incalculable amount of stress – especially when you’re allocating submissions to reviewers. If you choose submission software that can automate this task (after you set it up of course), you’ll save yourself a world of stress.

Before you send your Call for Papers, decide exactly how you’re going to allocate your submissions. Define your topics and whether you’re going to allow nepotism (where reviewers and authors have the same affiliation). Decide if you’ll allow authors to submit papers with unlimited topics, or if you’ll restrict them to just one or two. And decide if you’ll give reviewers the option to decline certain submissions while accepting others.

3. Decide if you’re using tracks or review groups

Most conferences collect, review and accept all their submissions together. But if your conference is broad, you may want to separate your technical programme into thematic areas (tracks). Tracks work like sub-conferences within a conference: each track can have its own chair, deadlines, topics and set of reviewers. 

And if your conference is more narrow in focus, but you’re expecting to get more than a hundred submissions, think about creating review groups – these allow different people to chair separate groups of submissions. It is important to plan ahead and to try to anticipate how many submissions you are going to have. Given the levels of access to new audiences brought on by running virtual conferences, predicting the number of submissions may be difficult. So, just take a look back at previous years and try your best to identify trends.  

And don’t forget: If your conference needs tracks or review groups, you’ll need to enable them in your abstract management system before you open submissions.

4. Assess your reviewer workload (and be realistic)

Take a moment and do the sums. How many reviews does each submission need? How many submissions does this mean each reviewer will have to complete? And how much time will each review take? (As a rough guide: a 300-word abstract could take 30 minutes to review, whereas a paper could take a full day.) 

If reviewers have too many submissions, it doesn’t matter if your system has aced the allocation process: reviewers will miss their deadlines or go AWOL. If you think you’re overloading reviewers, invite more or consider dropping the number of reviews each submission needs. 

And be sure you configure your peer-review software to limit the number of submissions each reviewer gets. We’ve seen a conference where the organisers assigned each reviewer 120 submissions. You do not want to be that conference. A dynamic submission and review system will aid you in avoiding this academic faux pas.

5. Define your abstract management marking scheme

I’ve seen more than a few conference committees that didn’t give their marking scheme proper thought. And more often than not, this ended with one committee member having to make a snap decision (which is the last thing you want to do when you’ve got a bucketload of conference submissions to review).

A good marking scheme will boost the quality of reviews and – by extension –  the quality of your conference’s technical programme. Define your marking scheme before you open the review phase in your abstract management software. Layout your scoring criteria – and be clear and concise in what you expect of reviewers during the peer-review process. Add weight to certain scoring categories if they warrant it. Decide if you want to make it mandatory that reviewers write comments. And decide whether or not to make reviewer or chair comments visible to authors. 

Reviewers are key to a quality conference programme. And they are carrying a big load of the work in sourcing the content for your conference. So, make sure that your submission and review software is easy to use and set up correctly.

6. Agree on conference presentation types

Whether you put the focus on oral and poster presentations, or on workshops, panels and symposia, decide how you want your accepted authors to present. 

It may seem a long way down the line, but deciding this before you configure your abstract management software gives you an advantage. It means you can ask authors to indicate which type of presentation they’d like their submission to be considered for. And it means reviewers can recommend that submissions be presented in a certain way in your conference submission platform. This is more important now than ever, with delegates potentially attending physically, virtually or in a hybrid fashion, you need to understand the best formats to use when scheduling the work of submitting authors.

7. Assign roles in your abstract management software

Any good abstract management system will allow you to give users different levels of permission. Before you open the submissions floodgate, decide who on your committee needs an account and what responsibilities each account should have. 

Don’t leave it to the wire to make important decisions. Take the time to work out who will manage tasks like inviting reviewers; sending reminders; extending deadlines or making final decisions on submissions. Understanding the roles of your team will help you run your event with a little less stress.

8. Decide if you’re publishing a book of proceedings

Will your conference publish a book of proceedings? If you’re publishing a book, you’ll need to collect camera-ready (corrected and ready to publish) copies of submissions. If you decide early, you can save your committee the cost (and time) of getting your book formatted by a printer. With the right software, you can create your book of proceedings directly from your abstract management system.

With the world turning to virtual, many have deemed the printed book of proceedings to be outdated. And as the pandemic winds down, sustainability will come to the forefront in the events industry. So, make sure to double-check if your delegates even want a book. It’s the kind of data that will become powerful for your future events, potentially saving you time and money.

9. Build in contingency time

The decisions you make when collecting and reviewing submissions in your abstract management software will have a huge impact on your conference timeline. For example, if you configure your system for a two-stage review or to collect camera-ready submissions, you’ll need to leave enough time for this to take place. 

Review your whole conference timeline (see the conference timeline in our eBook)  and check that your deadlines are realistic. And then add in some contingency to cover you if you need to extend submission or review deadlines. If you don’t add some wiggle room, you may end up scrambling to pull things together at the last minute – which could mean late nights for you and your committee.

10. Assign the correct timezone to your conference

It’s easy to overlook the potential for confusion that’s created by timezones. Make sure your abstract management system is configured to your local timezone – and then make sure your authors and delegates are aware of this

This needs to be clear, since virtual conferences increase the potential for confusion with delegates checking in from around the globe. You have more important things to do than field angry emails from authors who misread the timezone and missed your submissions deadline.

11. Keep your content connected on a single conference management system

Academic event planners need to use heaps of varied software to keep on top of things. It can often get confusing. So, it’s helpful to manage all the content for your event on a single connected conference platform. Whether you are running a physical or virtual conference, linking to your abstract management system should be at the top of your priority list. One connected system for your programme, mobile app, abstract management and virtual platform can help you run a much more efficient conference.

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Scholarly conferences can be tricky beasts to plan. So, make sure you’re getting the most out of any abstract management software you use.

Brian Campbell

Brian is a proud marketeer and is responsible for helping people find Ex Ordo. He works part-time as a lecturer for NUI, Galway and loves quizzing his students on the latest business trends and insights. Brian enjoys hanging out with his baby nephews, playing and watching sports, and dancing his socks off at Ex Ordo Fridays. He also likes to keep a keen eye on the scholarly research space and has co-organised an academic conference to boot.