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2014 Convention News
Washington, DC, February 18–21

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 formula for 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—practitioners, students, graduate educators, and researchers— in writing a successful proposal. Please note that the process described below applies to proposals for papers, PIE (Participant Information Exchange) sessions, posters, mini-skills, and symposia. The half- and full-day 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.

NASP's goal is to ensure the highest quality, most relevant sessions on a diverse range of topics. We are especially seeking presentations that will appeal to seasoned practitioners and assist them in delivering the highest quality, evidencebased practices in schools. We want to encourage individuals, particularly practitioners, who might not normally think to submit a proposal, to do so. You may not be doing formal 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 good theory and research? Do I have evidence that demonstrates positive effects? Would other school psychologists benefit from knowing how to do it?” If the answer to these questions is yes, you may simply need to ask yourself the next question, “Can I translate this knowledge into a convention presentation?” The guidelines below will help you do this translation successfully.

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, volunteer practitioners and trainers review the proposal summaries. If you are interested in serving in this capacity, watch the NASP Communities and webpage, as reviewers will be recruited in May and June.

Reviewers see only the summaries that are submitted. They do not read abstracts, and they do not know who wrote the proposals. Three reviewers read and rate each summary on three dimensions: (a) clarity and organization of content, (b) evidence base, and (c) quality of outcomes for participants. Each dimension is rated on a 1–5 scale. 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, PIE session, 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. Typically, however, there is most space for poster sessions, followed by PIE and paper sessions. Mini-skills sessions and symposia tend to have fewer slots available, making these sessions more competitive.

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. The PIE sessions allow for discussion among only a very small number of participants (8–9), so only choose this session type if your session lends itself to small-group discussion. The mini-skills sessions are especially appropriate for seasoned practitioners to share their knowledge with colleagues. The session length is sufficient for a comprehensive presentation focused on skill development; the idea is to provide attendees for specific skills they can “use on Monday morning.” Presenters should leave ample time for questions and exchanges among participants.

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 potential attendees. Be sure to consider each dimension of the proposal scoring calculation. Because we use a masked review process, do not include your name or any identifying information in your summary, or your proposal will be automatically disqualified.

Clarity and organization of content. A clear, logical, organized, well-written proposal usually leads to a high quality presentation. Reviewers should be able to easily understand what you plan to present and how you will present it. Summaries should be very carefully reviewed for spelling, grammar, and usage errors. Remember that reviewers are reading many proposals (usually around 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, introductory 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. Proofread and edit your summary carefully; errors of grammar and mechanics of writing lead to lower scores.

Evidence base for session content. This dimension refers to the quality of evidence on which the proposal is based. Reviewers are instructed to consider the evidence base somewhat differently depending on whether the proposal describes a formal research study or a different kind of content. In both cases, however, a common error is to provide too little information on the evidence base. That is, some authors spend most of their 800 words giving general background on their topic and fail to provide any degree of detail about the core content of the session.

Research study presentations. If you are presenting a specific research study, be sure to give adequate 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. Although it is acceptable to submit a proposal for a study in progress, do not submit unless you are certain that the study will be complete in time for the presentation. You still should identify how you plan to analyze the data and what your expected outcomes will be.

Other presentations. 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 or evidence 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. As another example, if you developed and implemented a particular counseling intervention in a school, you need to provide some evidence that you evaluated the outcomes. Acceptable evidence might include progress monitoring, single subject, multiple baseline, consumer satisfaction, or similar data. Proposals that describe an untested “good idea” are typically rated fairly low on this dimension.

For all proposals, a brief discussion of limitations is generally helpful. While authors are expected to be enthusiastic about their work, readers are well aware that there are no perfect studies or techniques. Acknowledgment of how this particular proposal fits within the larger literature on the topic suggests that the authors will provide an appropriately balanced presentation.

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. Sometimes authors will describe outcomes that appear unrelated to the session content; these proposals typically receive low ratings on this dimension. Reviewers also tend to respond negatively to proposals that appear to be “commercials” for a particular product or method.

Finally, it is important to note that the rating in this area does not consider popularity of the topic. That is, even if the topic of your session is relevant to only a specialized group (e.g., school psychologists who work in higher education, or school psychologists who work with students with low incidence disabilities), the proposal should receive a high rating in this area if detailed, relevant learning outcomes are provided.

Common Erors in Submission

Before submitting the summary online, check it carefully to make sure it conforms to the 800-word limit as described in the instructions. Any proposal that goes over this word limit will automatically be disqualified. Authors also make a number of common errors that result in disqualification because the author can be identified in the summary. Attend to the following points:

  • Do not include author name(s) in the file name of the uploaded summary document (e.g., SmithNASP14.docx)
  • Do not use an author name as part of a running head in the document
  • Remember to turn off and clear “track changes” from the document (if track changes remain, the author's name is typically visible in the edits)
  • Do not identify an author in describing related work. That is, rather than writing “Our prior work (Smith, 2010) showed …” simply say, “Smith (2010) showed …”

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 within a few minutes. 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 you do not receive this confirmation, 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). Please remember that primary presenters are responsible for communicating all information to secondary presenters. NASP does not communicate directly with secondary presenters or contributors.

If your name or that of one of the secondary presenters changes after the submission of your proposal, be 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 (e.g., 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 canceled. 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 voicemail. Your colleagues on the Convention Committee will be most grateful.

Now, get to writing your proposal. Good luck!

Updated from an article by Kathleen Minke, PhD, NCSP, when she was convention chair, published in Communiqué, Vol. 36, #6, March 2008.