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Our 10 tips on setting up abstract management software

Sourcing abstract management software for your conference? Here are 10 things you need to do before you configure it.

The power of abstract management software lies in the vast amount of time it can save when you’re organising a research conference. But here’s the catch: only 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.

So, before you configure your conference’s abstract management system, complete these 10 tasks.

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 biographies? 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. So before you open submissions, figure out the configuration options in your system and ensure your conference has the set-up 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 time and stress when you’re allocating submissions to reviewers. 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 to as many topics as they like, or restrict them to 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. 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 abstract management 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.

5. Define your abstract management marking scheme

You’d be surprised how many research conferences don’t give a lot of thought to configuring their marking scheme and end up with one committee member making snap decisions. A good marking scheme will boost the quality of reviews and – by extension –  the quality of your conference’s technical programme. So, define your marking scheme before you open review in your abstract management software. Lay out your scoring criteria – and be clear and concise in what you expect of reviewers.  Add weight to certain scoring categories if they warrant it. Decide if you want to make it mandatory that reviewers write comments. Decide whether or not to make reviewer or chair comments visible to authors.

6. Agree on conference presentation types

Whether it’s with oral or poster presentations, or through workshops, panels or symposia, decide how you want your accepted authors to present. It may seem way down the line, but deciding this before you configure your abstract management software 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. 

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 till everything’s in to start deciding, work out who will take care of tasks like: inviting reviewers; sending reminders; extending deadlines or making final decisions on submissions

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 this now, you can configure your abstract management system to do this, and save your committee the cost (and time) of getting your book formatting by a printer.

9. Build in contingency time

Lots of the decisions you make about how you’re collecting and reviewing submissions in your abstract management software will impact 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 and check that your deadlines are realistic. And then add in some contingency for if you need to extend submissions or review deadlines. If you don’t, you may end up scrambling to pull things together at the last minute – which could mean lots of late nights for you or 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 thisYou have more important things to be doing than fielding emails from authors who are eight hours ahead of you and angry that they missed the submissions deadline.

Conclusion

If you skip these steps, you’ll be restricting how effective your abstract management system is, and giving yourself more work and stress into the bargain.

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

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