11 Tips for Abstract Management Software Setup

8 minute read

Sourcing abstract management software at your upcoming conference?

Here are the things you need to do before you set up your abstract management software.

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and your call for papers is often a delegate’s first point of engagement with your conference. To attract the volume and variety of content you need to build out a top-quality conference programme and set the stage for a memorable event experience. So, your submission and review processes must flow as smoothly as possible with abstract management software.

Good abstract management software is a non-negotiable when you’re organising a research conference. 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. It leaves them carrying out unnecessary manual checks, or clarifying confusion among authors, reviewers, or delegates. If you’re expecting to receive more than 50 submissions, we strongly advise you invest in a connected abstract management solution, rather than a stand-alone tool for abstract management. While fit-for-purpose abstract management software is key, it can only do its job if it’s well-configured for both authors and reviewers to use from the get-go.

We’ve put together a list of our top 12 tips to help you set up your system properly, so you can create a great first impression. It should help you foster an atmosphere of anticipation, and start building your event reputation from day one.

1. Define your submission parameters

So, you’ve got a conference date in mind, and have already decided which formats you’ll be accepting (abstracts, extended 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? Will you have a maximum word count, or formatting conventions? Information about things like file uploads, anti-plagiarism statements, and copyright transfers should all be included in your guide for authors.

Proper abstract management software will allow you to configure your submission form so you get exactly what you need from authors. The best platforms will intuitively do this, relieving any areas of uncertainty for your authors during the submission process. So, before you even craft your call for papers and open submissions, figure out the configuration options in your abstract management software to ensure your conference has the precise setup it needs.

Use the data from previous years, whilst also considering the format in which your content will be consumed. Depending on your attendees’ needs, you may have to configure your submissions differently for virtual, physical, or hybrid conferences. It’s a simple first step to an intuitive peer review process. Find out more about leading abstract management solutions in Ex Ordos’ upcoming open demo. 

2. Decide how you’ll allocate submissions

When it’s configured correctly, an abstract management software can save you a huge amount of valuable time – 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 be smiling.

Most of the conferences we work with agree on a list of submission topics. Reviewers then select the topics for which they’re best equipped to review. The way submissions are matched to reviewers can vary. There are some important decisions to be made upfront.

Will authors be allowed to submit papers to an unlimited number of topics, or be restricted to just one or two? Should reviewers have the option to decline certain submissions while accepting others? Will you allow nepotism, where an author and a reviewer share an affiliation, such as a country or organisation, e.g. university? Preventing nepotism means that reviewers cannot be assigned to submissions if they have the same affiliations as the authors. 

If you outline exactly how you plan to handle submission allocation right off the bat, it makes for a much smoother, more transparent process. 

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

Clarify your review process. Single or double-blind review? Single-blind means the reviewer knows who the author is, double-blind means they don’t. In both cases, the author doesn’t know who the reviewer is. How will reviewers score submissions? Reviewers on Ex Ordo conferences generally score on criteria like: technical merit, readability, relevance, originality, and format.

A lot of 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. 

If your conference is narrower in focus, but you’re expecting to receive more than a hundred submissions, think about creating review groups – these allow different people to chair separate groups of submissions. It’s important to plan ahead, to try and anticipate how many submissions you’re going to receive. However given the levels of access to new audiences thanks to 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. 

Certain communities have discovered that dividing their biggest events into smaller, frequent symposia proves to be an effective method for involving members and getting the most out of their abstract management system. While it undoubtedly requires additional effort from your events team, it facilitates improved management of tracks or review groups during the annual meeting.

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

Take a moment to 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.) 

Even if your system excels in the allocation process, an excess of submissions for reviewers can lead to missed deadlines or disappearances. In such cases, you may find yourself scrambling to find replacements or redistributing their workload to other reviewers. Since many conferences depend on volunteer reviewers, it’s crucial to respect their time. If you sense that reviewers are being overwhelmed, consider inviting more volunteers or reducing the number of reviews required for each submission.

If you configure your peer review software to limit the number of submissions each reviewer receives, you can avoid this common academic faux pas. And your reviewers will thank you for it.

5. Define your marking scheme

We’ve seen more than a few conference committees that didn’t give their marking scheme proper thought. This ended with one committee member having to make a snap decision, which is the last thing you should be doing when you’ve got a bucketload of 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. Lay out your scoring criteria, and be clear and concise about 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. 

6. Agree on conference presentation types

Whether you put the focus on oral and poster presentations, and symposia, decide how you want your accepted authors to present. Perhaps you aim for your annual meeting to have both poster sessions and symposiums, to allow for a more comprehensive overview of your conference content. 

It may seem a long way down the line, but deciding this before you configure your abstract management system 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. This means reviewers can recommend that submissions be presented in a certain way on your conference submission platform. This will keep you more organised, and enable you to optimise the content of your conference. 

This is actually more important than ever, with delegates potentially attending in-person, 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 software for abstract management

A 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 or events team needs an account, and what responsibilities each account should have. 

Avoid leaving crucial decisions until the last minute. Allocate time to determine the individuals responsible for tasks such as inviting reviewers, sending reminders, extending deadlines, or making final decisions on submissions. Ensuring a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities among team members from the start will prevent unnecessary headaches later on.

8. Decide how you’re publishing your book of proceedings

Your book of proceedings is the official record of your conference and includes: a front and back cover, foreword, sponsors, table of contents, full list of abstracts or papers, abstract images, page numbering, and an author index. It can be published in traditional print format, or more eco-friendly digital format, available for download from your website or mobile conference app. It should be noted that mobile apps are quickly becoming a pillar of conference success and the delegate experience.

The sooner you decide how you’ll be publishing your book – in print and/or digital format – the better. As sustainability becomes increasingly important across all industries, many deem the printed book of proceedings to be outdated and unnecessary. However, not everyone agrees.

The importance of giving your attendees the event experience that they want, rather than what you think they want, cannot be overstated. Hold a mirror up to your audience and ask them how you can best serve their needs. This is the kind of data that can provide real value for your current and future conferences. Not just in terms of meeting delegate expectations, but also potentially sparing you the costs associated with design, formatting, and printing of hard copies. 

With a platform like Ex Ordo, you can create your book of proceedings directly from your abstract management system, using a ready-to-go template. Bear in mind you’ll be making loads of changes and tweaks to your programme as your event takes shape. Your data is available across the whole platform. Any changes you make to the programme right up to and including conference day itself will be reflected in your final book of proceedings. Magic!

9. Build in contingency time

The decisions you make when collecting and reviewing submissions in your abstract management process 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 foolproof conference planning checklist, broken down by month and task) to make sure 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 scramble to pull things together at the last minute. This could mean late nights for you and your committee. Be prepared, and give your team a bit of lee-way to ensure the peer review process runs smoothly.

10. Assign the correct time zone to your conference

One can easily overlook the potential for confusion created by time zone differences. Make sure your abstract management software is configured to your local time zone – and then make sure your authors and delegates are aware of this. You need to be clear as you have more important things to do than field emails from authors who misread the time zone and missed your submission deadline. 

11. Keep your content connected on a abstract management platform

Academic event planners need to use loads of varied software to keep on top of things. It can often get confusing. One cannot overemphasize the value of managing all the content for your event in one central place. A connected abstract management system, like Ex Ordo. 

At Ex Ordo, we can do all of the above and more. We’ve developed an end-to-end conference management system and connected peer review software specifically for in-person and virtual research events. Seamlessly linked into our core abstract management software is an online conference programme, registration system, print-ready book of proceedings, and mobile conference app, with an integrated conference platform to support online events. Ex Ordo’s friendly and dedicated support team, along with a comprehensive knowledge base, supports its event tech. 

Ex Ordo provides not only regular Customer Support but also assigns a dedicated Customer Success Manager to act as your trusted advisor throughout your conference. A highly experienced event professional with four years as a Professional Conference Organiser leads the Customer Success team. She is an integral part of our team and knows both our product and the conference industry inside out. Map your key milestones and ensure that you configure your Ex Ordo system well for immediate use.

Brian Campbell

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