What Is a Conference Paper and How Is It Written?

Woman writing a conference paper on her laptop

Earning a doctoral degree is one of the most impactful steps you can take to position yourself as an authority in your field and elevate your career potential. The process of completing your doctorate can be challenging, but also highly meaningful and rewarding. Before you dive in and apply to a program, you’ll want to learn about the steps involved for degree completion.

One of those steps might entail writing a conference paper. What is a conference paper? Learn more here and get some valuable tips for success.

In This Article:

What Is a Conference Paper?

It’s quite common for graduate students to attend academic conferences that are relevant to their discipline. Learners studying pedagogy, for example, might attend the International Conference on Research in Teaching and Education. Those studying to become psychologists might attend the International Conference on Research in Psychology.

At these academic and professional conferences, doctoral learners often give presentations of conference papers. A conference paper is a written document that forms the basis for an oral presentation. It’s an academic exploration of the learner’s area of research and their research findings.

A conference paper presentation could take one of several forms. One common format is for the learner to read their paper aloud, and then participate in a question-and-answer session with other academicians in the audience. Other formats include the following:

  • Visual presentation
  • Panel/roundtable discussions
  • Workshops
  • Poster sessions (a physical display, similar to a booth at an industry convention, which allows for in-depth discussions between presenter and attendees)

It’s perhaps most common for doctoral learners to read their papers aloud and then answer questions from audience members, although panel discussions are also quite common. A conference paper presentation can also feature a blend of elements, such as a visual presentation that complements the conference paper being read aloud.

Is a Conference Paper Necessary for a Doctoral Degree?

The requirements for the completion of a doctoral degree are established by each college and degree program. Some programs may indeed require their doctoral learners to write and present a conference paper, whereas others might only recommend it. Even if your program doesn’t require a conference paper, taking this additional step can prove invaluable for your development as an academician and for your career.

Here’s a look at a few of the benefits of participating in academic conferences:

  • Generates useful feedback from peers regarding your topic of research and your findings so far
  • Provides you with opportunities to practice presenting your work, which is particularly helpful if your program requires a dissertation defense
  • Allows you to learn from other presenters and develop a stronger knowledge of current research trends in your field
  • Provides professional networking opportunities
  • Helps to position you as a leader in your field

Preparing To Write Your Conference Paper

Now that you know the answer to the question, “What is a conference paper?” it’s time to take a look at the process of writing one. Before you can begin writing your conference paper, you’ll need to identify the academic conference you plan to participate in.

When an academic conference is in the planning stages, the organizers will put out a call for papers, also known as a “conference announcement” or a “call for abstracts.” The announcement will specify the conference topics for that particular year. You’ll need to shape your conference paper to suit the conference topics.

In short, your first step is to identify the most appropriate and relevant conference for your research and ensure that your work will fit the scope of the conference topics. If there is plenty of time leading up to that particular conference, it can be helpful to attend a different academic conference as an audience member. You’ll be able to get a sense of how conferences typically proceed, how presenters keep the audience’s attention and how presentations are structured.

Another step to take for your initial preparation is to research your fellow presenters at your chosen conference. What specific topics will they be discussing, and do they overlap with your own? If there is considerable overlap, you may want to explore the idea of collaborating with those presenters to hold a panel discussion.

Next, you’ll need to write your abstract for submission to the conference. Your abstract provides an overview of the topic you plan to discuss, your relevant research on the subject and your findings. Be sure to include these major points:

  • Your reason for pursuing the topic
  • The problem you’re examining
  • The approach you’re using
  • Your results and conclusions

How To Write a Conference Paper

Once your abstract is accepted by the conference, it’s time to get to work writing the paper itself. First, know that conference papers are typically not lengthy. Double-check the amount of time you’ve been allotted to present your work.

It generally takes someone two to three minutes to read one double-spaced page of an academic paper aloud (double spacing is helpful for ease of reading the paper aloud). If you’ve been allotted 15 to 20 minutes, plan on writing eight to 10 double-spaced pages.

Next, as you’re writing, remind yourself that you will be reading the paper aloud. It should flow in a logical manner, first discussing the problem or question you’re addressing, then your approach, followed by your research design and, finally, your results and conclusions. A basic paper format might look like this:

  • Introduction: Clearly explain your intentions and approach.
  • Background: If you feel it’s necessary, add some context to explain why you decided to research your topic. You might briefly explore historical data or established theories.
  • Methodology: Explain your qualitative or quantitative research design.
  • Results: Remember that results aren’t the same as conclusions. In this section, simply explain the results of your research. Include all relevant data.
  • Conclusions: Reflect upon what your results might mean and why your findings may be significant to your topic. Consider whether your study may require further research and whether there are some weaknesses or gaps in your work.
  • References: Always cite your references.

This is a lot of information to pack into a paper that should generally be no more than 10 double-spaced pages in length. You’ll need to write concisely, without any fluff. Here are a few tips for success to follow:

  • Use relatively short sentences.
  • Limit the use of passive voice.
  • Provide interim summaries when called for. An interim summary is like a pause in the paper that serves to remind audiences of the paper’s progress so far and where it’s headed. (Example: “Now that we’ve covered methodologies, let’s move on to the results.”)
  • Use visual aids to enhance your presentation. Don’t use a slide show that shows your entire paper, but do use visual aids such as graphs, charts and quotes to provide additional information, context or simply visual interest.
  • Somewhere in your paper, explain why the audience should care or why your research is significant to your field. (Example: “More than six million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease.1 This research explores the underlying causes…”)

Lastly, after writing your paper, set it aside for a few days before reviewing and editing with fresh eyes. Read your paper aloud multiple times and revise as needed to create a better flow.

At Grand Canyon University, the College of Doctoral Studies offers robust resources and support services for our doctoral learners, who can choose from a wide array of terminal degree programs. If you have doctoral credits from another school, you can easily transfer your credits using our Progressive Transfer Policy. Credits can be generously transferred from the same type of degree (e.g., PhD, EdD) and subject area (e.g., organizational leadership). 

Begin your pathway toward becoming a scholar-practitioner by clicking on “Request Info” at the top of your screen.


1Retrieved from Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures in November 2022. 


Approved by the dean of the College of Doctoral Studies on Feb. 13, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.