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2012 Convention News

Preparing a Successful NASP Convention Presentation Proposal

All proposals considered for NASP convention presentations undergo a masked review process. Each year, some proposals that appear to have merit are not accepted for presentation because these proposals either violated a submission rule or did not provide sufficiently clear information to result in a positive decision.

There is no magic to writing a successful convention proposal, but there are simple best practices for doing so. These are outlined below and can be helpful to authors at all levels—students, graduate educators, researchers, and practitioners—in writing a successful proposal.

NASP’s goal is to ensure the highest quality, most relevant sessions on a diverse range of topics. We also want to encourage individuals, particularly practitioners who might not normally think to submit a proposal, to do so. You may not be doing theoretical research, but you probably are doing effective skills-based practice that other practitioners would find useful. Ask yourself, "Am I doing something that really works? Is it grounded in research? Do I have the evidence to demonstrate outcomes? Would other school psychologists benefit from knowing how to do it?" These are questions that most effective practitioners live by in their daily work. You may simply need to ask yourself the next question, "Can I translate this knowledge into a convention presentation?" If the answer to the above questions is yes, please consider submitting a proposal. Just follow the guidelines below.

(Please note that the process described below applies to proposals for papers, PIE sessions, posters, miniskills, and symposia. The half- and fullday NASP Convention Workshops— i.e., sessions that require an extra fee beyond convention registration—are primarily invited presentations, and the presenters for these workshops are selected via a separate process. Questions regarding the workshops should be directed to Mark Swerdlik at meswerd@ilstu.edu).

The Review Process

Proposals must be submitted in the spring online through the NASP website at http://www.nasponline.org/conventions/index.aspx. Check the website for specific deadlines. Over the summer, volunteers representing practitioners and trainers review the proposal summaries. Reviewers are being recruited now. If you are interested in serving in this capacity, see the insert box on page 41 or visit the website.

Reviewers see only the summaries that are submitted. They do not read abstracts and they do not know who wrote the proposals. Reviewers rate the summaries on three dimensions: (a) empirical support for research methodology and/or practice, (b) organization and clarity of content, and (c) quality of outcomes for participants. Each dimension is rated on a 1–5 scale. Each summary is read by three different reviewers. Scores are summed across reviewers and an individual proposal can have a score ranging from 9 to 45. The cut-off scores for each proposal type (i.e., paper, poster, symposium, mini-skills) are set based on the amount of space available for each session length. The amount of space differs from year to year, according to the venue. Typically, however, there is most space for poster sessions, followed by paper sessions. Mini-skills sessions and symposia tend to have fewer slots available, making these sessions more competitive.

Preparing the Summary

Because reviewers only see the summary, it is the single most critical element of the proposal. Successful proposals have summaries that make it easy for the reviewers to understand exactly what will be presented and how the content is relevant to the field. Be sure to consider each dimension of the proposal scoring calculation. Do not include your name or any identifying information in your summary, or your proposal will be automatically disqualified due to the blind review process.

Empirical support for session content. The first dimension, empirical support for the research methodology and/or practice, creates some difficulty at times. Typically, too little information is provided. That is, some authors spend most of their three-page limit giving general background on their topic and fail to provide any degree of detail about the core content of the session.

If you are presenting a specific research study, be sure to give information on your methodology. Reviewers want to feel confident that you followed appropriate procedures in designing the study and analyzing the data. Results should be explained briefly, and implications for further research and practice should be included. If you have not completed your analyses at the time you submit the proposal, this is acceptable (provided you will have them completed by the time of convention). However, you still should identify how you plan to analyze the data and what your expected outcomes will be. If your proposal does not involve a particular research study, reviewers will be looking for evidence that what you plan to present is drawn from a sound theoretical and/ or research base. For example, if you plan to present information on "best practices" in a particular area, the reviewers should be able to tell how you selected practices for inclusion. Proposals that describe an untested "good idea" are typically rated fairly low on this dimension. For example, if you developed and implemented a particular counseling approach in a school, you need to provide some evidence that you evaluated the outcomes. Simply describing the technique is unlikely to be viewed as sufficient.

Organization and clarity. The second dimension, organization and clarity, is more frequently a problem area for submitted summaries. Summaries should be very carefully reviewed for spelling, grammar, and usage errors. Sometimes it appears as if authors wrote the proposal quickly and did not edit their work. Carelessness in the preparation of the proposal makes reviewers wonder if similar carelessness will be reflected in the actual presentation, resulting in lower scores. Remember that reviewers are reading many proposals (usually approximately 30), so they appreciate prose that gets to the point quickly and does not require a lot of deciphering. Short, declarative, active voice sentences are likely to fit the bill. It helps to begin with a brief paragraph that introduces your topic and gives a quick overview of a few key issues. This paragraph should make the reader interested in what is about to follow. In subsequent paragraphs, outline in as much detail as possible (staying within the 800- word limit) what you plan to present.

Quality of outcomes for session participants. The third dimension, quality of outcomes for participants, is newest to the rating system. The intention is to allow reviewers to evaluate what a conference participant will gain by attending the proposed session. Therefore, it is helpful to conclude the summary with a statement of the specific anticipated benefits to participants (i.e., learner outcomes). In other words, you want to communicate clearly why attendees will want to be at your presentation.

A brief discussion of limitations is generally helpful. Readers tend to respond negatively to proposals that appear to be "commercials" for a particular product or method. While authors are expected to be enthusiastic about their work, readers are well aware that there are no perfect studies or techniques. Acknowledgments of how this particular proposal "fits" within the larger literature on the topic suggests that the authors will provide an appropriately balanced presentation.

Common Errors in Submission

Before submitting the summary online, check it carefully to make sure it conforms to the 800-word limit (inclusive of references, tables, figures, etc.). Any proposal that goes over this word limit will automatically be disqualified. Once again, be sure that the summary does not include information that identifies the author. Sometimes this can be challenging, especially if the proposal relates to a larger body of your own work. It can help to refer to other work without first person references (e.g., say "Prior research indicated ..." rather than, "My prior research indicated...."). Proposals violating these rules also are disqualified.

Match Content and Type of Session

Think about the kind of proposal you are submitting. Symposia, especially, require some sort of explanation of how the various presentations fit together into a coherent whole. If you are submitting a poster session proposal, the information you plan to present should lend itself to a visual presentation. There have been times when the proposal was for a poster, but the authors indicated they planned to include music, role-plays, or other methods inconsistent with a poster format. Finally, remember that your summary will be distributed to reviewers electronically. So, if you used "track changes" or other features of your word processor, accept all changes and make sure the version you submit does not have hidden comments (these sometimes pop up for the reviewers and can cause disqualifications).

Follow Up on Your Submission

Although the online system works more and more smoothly each year, there is always the possibility of electronic and human error when so many proposals are being processed. So, it pays to keep track of your proposal. Be sure to submit your proposal by the posted deadline. Even better, be an early bird. If you submit a few weeks or even days before the deadline, it will be much easier to sort out any technical difficulties. Note that staff will not actually be at the office at midnight on the night the presentation proposal system closes! After you submit your proposal, you will receive an e-mail confirmation. Save this e-mail; it will be very helpful later, especially if there are any problems. The confirmation e-mail should say that your proposal and the summary attachment were received. If it indicates that the summary attachment was not received, please e-mail Marcia Harvey (mharvey@naspweb.org) as soon as possible.

Proposals will be reviewed during the late summer. Information about how to view the list of accepted proposals on the NASP website is sent in October to all primary presenters who submitted a proposal. If you do not receive such an e-mail communication, please send a message to Marcia Harvey (mharvey@naspweb.org) or the current program cochair for assistance. Please note that primary presenters are responsible for communicating all information to applicable secondary presenters. NASP does not communicate directly with secondary presenters or contributors.

Also, if your name or that of one of the secondary presenters changes after the submission of your proposal, be very sure to either register for the convention under the original name or notify the NASP Convention Department of the name change on the submission. If you submit your proposal using one name and register under a different name (i.e., using a maiden name as part of your last name one time but not the other, or using a formal first name one time and a nickname the other), the NASP system will not recognize you as the same person and will assume that you are not registered for the convention. If you are the primary presenter, your presentation will be cancelled. Unregistered secondary presenters will be listed as contributors.

As a final note, if your proposal is not accepted, it is fine to ask for feedback to help you prepare a more successful proposal in the future. If you think an error has been made, be sure to ask about it. If you have a suggestion on how to improve the proposal submission process, please make it. However, please remember to use good manners. Unfortunately, over the years, program cochairs have received a number of e-mails and phone calls that would be considered less than professional. So, if you’re really angry or irritated, wait a couple of days before hitting that send button or leaving that voice mail. Your colleagues on the Convention Committee will be most grateful.

This article is an updated version of one written by Kathleen Minke and Susan Ratterree in Communiqué, 38(8), June 2010.