What's You're Missing in Your Conference Abstract: Spoilers

I've had the unique honor of participating in the program committee for Agile Testing Days for 2021 and 2022. I get to see anonymized submissions for talks and workshops (not keynotes), rate the entries on a number of criteria, and provide a few sentences of feedback for the author and the conference organizers to understand how and whether the submission fits in the program. I've also helped review papers in the Ministry of Testing call for papers. Anyone can.

Almost all of them are missing one thing: spoilers. I want spoilers. I want them to tell me how they faced a problem or general trend in the market at their job and what they did about it. I want enough detail, any detail, to know what I'll be seeing beyond the first two slides.

Here's what that looks like for a talk and a workshop.


For a talk, I'm expecting a particular format:

  1. Description of a problem the author has experienced
  2. Journey or decision point that led the author to change their behavior
  3. Details about the direction going forward

For 1., authors describe a problem in general but forget to tell me whether they have personal experience with the subject. "Playwright is great for web automation" is much weaker than "I spent six months migrating our tests from Selenium to Playwright and faced these issues."

For 2., authors tell me that they've changed their behavior but not why. "I spent six months migrating our tests from Selenium to Playwright" would be stronger if they included "because the timeout handling in Selenium kept giving us false positives, so the developers lost confidence in the testing results."

For 3., authors tell me that they solved it, or had trouble solving it, but not how. "I faced trouble" isn't as informative as "I had to spend time getting developers set up with the local environments, and getting to read the test failure messages in a new language."

Tell me about your connection to the issue. Tell me about what made you change what you were doing. Tell me about the journey of what that looked like.


For a workshop, I want to see:

  1. Description of a skill the author was missing
  2. Journey where the author built this skill
  3. Journey participants will go on to build this skill

The same issues for 1. apply from the Talks section above.

For 2., authors tell me there's a solution to the problem. But not if they ever experienced the problem, or if this solution was indeed successful in solving it.

For 3., I almost never have an idea of what the workshop will look like! Will this be a lecture disguished as a workshop so the author has more time to speak? Will participants be working in groups? Will this get them on the first step towards building a skill? How much will they be able to do differently at work on Monday? Give me some sense of what the activities are, and how much you expect people to achieve in them.

Anytime I submit an abstract to a conference, I find something in Rob Lambert's Blazingly Simple Guide To Submitting To Conferences that makes me reconsider what I've written. Read it if you're anywhere on the journey from "do I even have an idea for this conference?" to "you mean I'm supposed to speak on stage in front of all these people sitting before me?"

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash