Do you have a serious research interest? Would you like to receive feedback on your ideas and eventual recognition of your work? If so, you should get involved with a scholarly society and work toward making a scholarly presentation. Here are five steps you can take to prepare, present, and publish your work. The Scholarly Societies Project at the University of Waterloo maintains an Internet directory of 3,800 scholarly societies across the world (SSP, 2006). For nearly five hundred years these scholarly societies in the natural, social and sacred sciences have brought scholars together to discuss and exchange ideas. These meetings play a key part in advancing research and publishing knowledge (Bronfenbrenner, 1928).
For over a decade I have regularly spoken at professional conferences, but last year marked the first time I presented a scholarly paper to my academic peers. It was a positive experience, and fortunately my paper was selected for publication in the society’s annual volume. In this essay I’d like to share five lessons from my experience that you can use to prepare, present, and publish your research.
1. Attend Academic Conferences
The first step to making scholarly presentations is to attend academic conferences in your discipline. This will give you a good idea of how sessions are run, how scholars interact and how knowledge in your field is advanced. There is a difference between an academic conference and a professional conference. An academic conference is a forum for peer-review of research, while a professional conference is for practitioners to get the latest updates on best practices.
In attending an academic conference you will often find the meetings are organized by various tracks or issue areas. Some might be smaller themed conferences, hosted regionally at a university. Others might be huge comprehensive annual conferences, such as the American Academy of Religion (AAR). The AAR attracts over 5,000 scholars and offers over 900 sessions, spread over four days. Some of the sessions are plenary sessions where everyone is together; most will likely be breakout sessions, where issue areas or tracks have organized their own presentations. If you find the conference experience valuable, join the society and be sure you get their notices for future meetings.
2. Submit a Session Proposal
Usually nine months before a scholarly society meets they issue a Call for Papers (CFP). This is your invitation to look at the tracks being offered, and see if your research interests might match up with what the convener requests. Often academic conferences only allow 20 minutes per paper. Other times tracks will request papers be presented in panel formats, and you will need to aggregate your submission with others. When you receive a CFP of interest, the key is to mark the submissions deadline on your calendar and, if relevant, discuss the opportunity with other colleagues and make an informed decision on whether to submit a proposal–usually a one-page preview of your paper, containing a 120-word abstract.
3. Write a Scholarly Paper
The third step to making a scholarly presentation is to block out sufficient time to write your paper. Once you have received approval to present, you gather research for your paper. A year ago November I received word from the Evangelical Missiological Society that my proposal to present a paper at their April 21, 2005 regional meeting had been accepted. I immediately opened a folder on my computer and began adding my thoughts to how I would cover my subject. My topic was “The Future of Business as Mission: An inquiry into macro-strategy.” In my spare time I began reviewing the literature in this field, and blocked out several days in March to write my paper. Two weeks before the regional meeting I had produced a third draft of my paper, enough to put aside, and begin thinking through my presentation.
4. Prepare an Oral Presentation
Except for scientific meetings, presenters normally don’t read their 5,000 word papers in their 20-minute time slots. Instead, they are asked to present its research problem, its methodology and its arguments. Taking a cue from my experience at professional conferences, I prepared a 12-slide PowerPoint slide show to back up my oral presentation, containing my most powerful claims, evidence and conclusions. Normally presenters will speak for a half of their time and take questions during the remaining minutes. Two weeks out from the meeting I learned from the organizers that I would be presenting the first paper of the day, and would be given double time. To insure quality interaction, I took the liberty, with the organizer’s approval, to line up a PhD colleague in missiology to give a critique of my paper following my presentation and audience questions. And to provide visual continuity to my session, I prepared a two-page audience handout that matched my PowerPoint slides.
5. Solicit Feedback and Submit Your Paper
If you follow the previous four steps, your presentation should be effortless. My presentation was a breeze on that day in April, 2005. The only thing I missed was not taking complete notes during the question and answer period. Looking back I would have asked another colleague to fully capture the interaction, so I could reflect on it later. Once you have presented your paper, the process of gathering feedback doesn’t stop. The Evangelical Missiological Society had a regional bulletin board, and within two days I was discussing my paper with colleagues online.
Presenting a paper is only half the journey. After reaching that milestone I began to circulate my paper to various colleagues in Europe, Asia and North America for comment. First, I created an article on my website, containing my paper’s abstract and conclusion. Second, I uploaded an Adobe Reader version of my paper online so I could point colleagues to a fixed web URL where they could read it. Third, I wrote to ten colleagues, some whom I had not met, but had run across in my research, and asked for critique. Their feedback helped me balance my paper with further citations from Europe and Asia. I also asked for recommendations of forthcoming books or journals in this field that might be interested in publishing my paper. Fortunately, within three months the national arm of the Evangelical Missiological Society got back to me, and told me my paper had been approved for their annual volume, to be released in the fall of 2006.
My story of presenting, preparing and insuring the publication an original paper was a success story. It added to the body of sacred science. It opened a door for me to continue to learn and speak into the creation of 21st century sustainable business enterprises. The process didn’t come about by accident. Every step along the way was intentional, from deciding to present, to turning in a proposal, to writing a paper, to presenting it, to gathering feedback and insuring its publication. I will not get rich from my efforts, but the reward comes from knowing I have begun to give back to a field that has given so much to me.
Following this first, I have lined up two additional papers to present this Spring, one in the field of leadership, the other in the field of missiology. Isaiah once wrote, “Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back…” (NRSV, Isaiah 54:2a). I encourage you to begin making conference presentations so as to enlarge your discipline’s knowledge base.
About the Author
Dr. Jay Gary is president of PeakFutures, a leadership training group. Over the past twenty-five years PeakFutures has helped hundreds of leaders in non-profits, corporations, and educational institutions develop new programs and use cutting edge technology to deliver them. His teaching has included courses in Social Change, World Futures and Strategic Leadership. His experience has been in global leadership in both civic and religious contexts for over twenty years, alongside leaders from Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. His research interests include organizational and strategic foresight.
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Bronfenbrenner, M. O. (1928). The role of scientific societies in the seventeenth century. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago press.
Scholarly Societies Project. (2006). “Directory Information for Scholarly Societies.” Retrieved January 13, 2006 from: http://www.scholarly-societies.org/purpose.html