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Student Affairs Feature

Writing Symposium Abstracts
William R. Belcher

Symposium abstracts summarize the conceptual framework of the contributors' papers. Abstracts are a critical component of scholarly exchange within our discipline, and conference attendees use them to decide whether or not to attend a paper or symposium. Abstracts are also used by SAA in public relations and are released to local and national media during the annual meeting. For the uninitiated, however, writing and submitting an abstract can be a daunting project. Students should know that their abstracts stand a good chance of being accepted; the average rejection rate over the last few years has been around five percent.

Abstracts present the topic's significance in archaeology and address larger issues in anthropology. Abstracts should be written in a clear and direct style, avoiding vague and jargon-filled language. The 150-word limit set by SAA necessitates succinct and articulate word choice and sentence construction. Avoid phrases such as "In this paper/symposium..." or "Here I examine..."; these are meaningless place holders that waste words.

Predominant within anthropology and archaeology is the context + problem + main point abstract structure (W. C. Booth, G. G. Colomb, and J. M. Williams, 1995 The Craft of Research. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, pp. 213-214). This structure includes an abbreviated introduction that establishes the context of previous research, followed by a few sentences that state the research questions, and, finally, the main result of the research. For symposium abstracts, this should include an introduction to past research or approaches, the general questions that are examined in the symposium, and conclude with how this symposium will help evaluate some of the problems stated initially.

If one follows these guidelines, it is relatively easy to write an abstract for either a symposium or research report for the upcoming annual meeting. It can take many drafts to get a good abstract, so let your fellow graduates or graduate advisor read over the text before submitting it. See you in Nashville!

I would like to thank past organizers of the annual meeting, particularly Gary F. Feinman and Paul Minnis, for their time and their observations on abstracts.

William R. Belcher is a Student Affairs Committee campus representative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


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