Monday, November 8, 2010

Ignorance is Bliss

Call administrators: Have you ever come across a proposal that, for whatever reason, you just want to ignore? Now you can!

Simply select "Ignore" (from the Options menu) for any draft proposal or unapproved submission and ProposalSpace will treat it as if it never existed. To see the proposals you've chosen to ignore, just click the "Show Ignored" link. And to start tracking an ignored proposal again, just select "Don't ignore".

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tips for Effective Conference Proposals

We just came across some excellent advice from Alessandro Angelini for how to create and present the best possible paper for an educational conference, including how to:

  • Find a suitable conference
  • Write a strong abstract
  • Write the paper
  • Prepare the presentation
  • Present the paper

You can find it at

Monday, October 18, 2010

Updated Data Exporting

Just a quick note to let everyone know that we've updated the data export feature to accommodate the newly expanded, customizable role forms and to include review data.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Custom Role Forms

ProposalSpace has always allowed call admins to customize the terminology used for roles people play in a proposal. You can configure your call to use whatever terms you want... "speakers", "presenters", "authors", "collaborators", etc.

Now, you can also configure what information you collect about each of those people. Using our drag-and-drop form builder, you can create a custom form to collect information like qualifications, disclosure statements, membership status, favorite football team... whatever you want! Questions can be optional or required and are unique to each role you've established.

To access the feature, just go to your call's configuration page and click on "Roles". You'll see a link there (under each role you've created) to "Customize Form". If you have an active call in place, don't worry. We've carefully moved the previous questions—name, organization and disclosure—over to the new feature.

Oh, and we've included this new feature in our core modules, so there's no need to ask for an upgrade or to pay extra to use it. It's available to everyone right away.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Reviewer Assignment Feature

We've just introduced a new feature in ProposalSpace that allows call administrators to assign submissions to individual reviewers.

Before now, every reviewer had access to every submission. If a call admin wanted to spread out the workload, the admin would have to contact reviewers outside of the system to let them know which submissions to review and which to ignore.

Now, admins can make individual assignments, either from the Submissions page (where reviewers can be assigned to a submission) or from the Reviewers page (where submissions can be assigned to a reviewer).

We designed the feature with a lot of valuable input from our users, but we never stop wanting feedback. So check it out and let us know what you think!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Submission & Withdrawal Notices

We've just added a couple of features to the site that should make managing submissions a little easier for call admins:

  • The site now automatically notifies call admins by email whenever a proposal is submitted. Before, call admins had to log in to check on any activity. Now, that information is delivered right to their inboxes.
  • The site now automatically notifies proposal managers by email whenever a proposal is withdrawn. (A copy of the withdrawal notice is also placed in the manager's Message Center in case the email has problems making it through.) Plus, call admins have the option of including a message with the withdrawal notice.

Monday, August 2, 2010

New layout for Submission Tracker

We've changed the layout of the Submission Tracker slightly to make navigation a little clearer.

Before, the navigation items for the three categories of submissions (Draft, Awaiting Approval, and Approved) were displayed at the very top of the page and were somewhat removed from the main content. Thanks to feedback from one of our users, we've moved the three categories closer to the content, making it much clearer that they are navigation elements.

We think it's a huge improvement. We hope you do, too.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Free software? Better budget for it.

Thinking of using free abstract management software? It might be enticing, but consider the following:

  • Free software almost always has to be installed. If you install it yourself, it costs time. If you have someone to do it for you, it costs money. Either way, installations can fail for reasons beyond your control. Delays may or may not be what a conference organizer can afford.
  • Free software rarely comes with reliable, fast support. Even if you get it installed without any problems, you're still looking at configuring, maintaining, and troubleshooting it without much assistance.
  • Free software often comes with limited functionality. If you find yourself in need of additional features, you either have to modify the software yourself or upgrade to the paid version. (This is known as a "freemium" model, where the free version is really just a gateway to the paid version.)
  • Updates for installed software come in the form of releases. In order to stay current with new features and bug fixes, not only do you have to regularly track releases, you also have to apply them.

Paid and hosted software avoids all these issues. There's nothing to install, nothing to maintain, and support is readily available whenever you need it.

At first glance free is attractive, but be careful: free can end up costing you a lot.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why a hard deadline is better than a soft deadline

We argued previously that a soft deadline for submissions is better than a hard deadline. Now we're going to argue the opposite: that a hard deadline can be preferable to a soft deadline. We're not doing this to confuse you, we're just trying to point out that each has its own benefits and that your choice should depend entirely on your own unique situation.

Unlike a soft deadline, which is nothing more than an initial target for authors to shoot for, a hard deadline is the absolute final date and time you will accept submissions. You always have the option of accepting late submissions on a case-by-case basis, but as a general rule, authors who miss a hard deadline are out of luck—at least until the next call.

A hard deadline is better than a soft deadline because:

  • It avoids confusion. You can publish one deadline and authors won't have to figure out if it has passed or been extended.
  • It forces authors to budget their time for unforeseen problems, which can lead to earlier submissions.
  • It shows you mean business. A hard deadline lets authors know that you are serious about the organization and planning of the conference.
  • It lowers your stress. Once the deadline has passed you no longer have to worry about submissions.

The key to a hard deadline, of course, is that you never extend it. Otherwise, you've just created a soft deadline.

Also, when setting a hard deadline, be painfully precise about the exact date and time of the deadline. It's true for any deadline, but especially true for hard deadlines: include a time—and time zone—along with the date. And if you're going to set your deadline for noon or midnight, don't use "a.m." and "p.m.".

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why a soft deadline is better than a hard deadline

One of the most basic decisions about any call is whether to set a soft or hard deadline for submissions. Unlike a hard deadline, which is carved in stone, a soft deadline provides authors with a target date to submit their work, with the understanding that the deadline will be extended.

A soft deadline is better than a hard deadline because:

  • Authors get a date to budget their time for, while also getting a cushion in case of unforeseen problems.
  • You can get a gauge of the quantity and quality of submissions and fine-tune the call if needed.
  • The extension can be used to promote the call to authors who may have missed it the first time.

A soft deadline is set under the assumption that you will eventually extend it, so don't forget to budget for the additional time. Also, soft deadlines work best when you don't publicize the fact that they are soft deadlines. People often produce their best work when crunched for time, so don't ruin your authors' creative edge by hinting the deadline will be extended.

Lastly, don't confuse a soft deadline with accepting late submissions on a case-by-case basis. A soft deadline should be applied to everyone equally, regardless of their circumstances. If you're leaning instead toward accepting late submissions on a case-by-case basis, be sure you have clear criteria in place for determining which submissions qualify for an extension. (But that's a topic for another post.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Why your conference needs an official Twitter #hashtag

Attendees are going to tweet about your conference. You can either let them self-organize (bad idea) or you can help them in their efforts simply by creating and promoting an official hashtag (great idea).

Creating a conference hashtag is super simple. (So simple, in fact, you might want to take it a step further and create hashtags for individual sessions.) The best part? Hashtags are free and can be created without ever having to log in to—or even have—a Twitter account.

Attendees will benefit from an official hashtag by:

  • Having an easy way to collect and organize notes. (See our post about TweetNotes for a tool that makes organizing conference tweets even easier.)
  • Having access to everyone's tweets in one convenient location.
  • Continuing discussions after the conference (or session).
  • Being able to report problems in real time.
  • Receiving conference announcements in real time.
  • Receiving promotions or other announcements from exhibitors in real time.

Creating an official hashtag is a big help for your attendees, but to get the most out of it, you also need to promote it. So be sure to place it on the conference website, on signage at the venue, and on slides before presentations. Your attendees will thank you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What to include in every call

Wondering what information you should include in your call? Here's our checklist of the key pieces of information every call should have. (You can really never have too much information, though, so consider these the minimum.)

  • Submission deadline (Yes, we have seen numerous calls that neglect to mention the date submissions are due. If you don't have one, set one. People need to know how much time they have or they may never even begin to work on their proposals.)
  • Purpose / theme (Don't assume everyone knows exactly what the call is about. Assume instead that this is their first time to hear about it. At a minimum, give them a general description of what you're looking for. If possible, provide a list of specific topics.)
  • Qualifications (Let people know up front if there are any requirements they must meet—like being a member of your association—in order to respond to your call. If the call is open, be sure to mention that, too.)
  • Contact information (There will be questions. Don't make it difficult for people to get answers. Always include contact information so they can easily reach you with questions, comments, or concerns.)
  • Examples (This isn't absolutely necessary, but examples of previous submissions are a terrific way to show people what works—or doesn't work.)

For conferences, you should also include the conference dates and location. That way, people can determine whether they can attend.

Lastly, if the information for your call is on your Web site (which it should be), try to keep it all on one page. Not only does it make it easier to find information, it also makes it easier for people to print it all out.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

New Feature: Test Mode

Call administrators now have the option of testing a call in ProposalSpace before making it live.

Here's how it works:

  1. Once your call is complete (has all the information required for activation), you simply click a button to place it in "test mode".
  2. The system automatically generates a special URL, which you and your testers use to create and submit test proposals.
  3. Administrators, review chairs and reviewers have full access to the call—as if it were active—for three days.
  4. After three days, the call is automatically taken out of test mode. If you need more time, just let us know. We'll be glad to extend the test period.
  5. Any data entered during the testing period is automatically deleted when you activate the call.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Word's Hidden Costs

You should never distribute your call as a Word file for people to fill out and send back to you. It might seem like a fast, easy solution—especially for smaller calls—but it will end up costing you more than you think.

Here are just some of the challenges you face using Word:

  • Although Word is ubiquitous, different versions and platforms mean you can't be certain everyone who downloads your file is going to be able to open it, edit it and send it back to you without compatibility issues.
  • You can include pages of instructions and use highlighting and colorful text to draw attention to required fields, but you're still going to have to review every submission to make sure it was filled out properly.
  • You'll need an iron-clad organizational plan to track every submission you receive, including revisions.
  • Most authors expect an acknowledgment that their submission made it safely into your hands. You'll need to send a confirmation email for every submission you receive.
  • Any file you get back could be carrying something you don't want on your computer. You'll need to make sure you scan every submission for viruses and other malware.
  • You'll need to back up every file you receive on a regular basis in case something bad happens to your computer or network.

Using Word to distribute your call might make sense because it's easy to use, readily available and basically free (if you've already got a license). But once you start to receive submissions, the costs—especially time costs—really start to add up.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

First Impressions

How many times have you heard someone say (or have said yourself): "This food is terrible. Try it."?

Well, that's the impression we got when we came across a recent call for abstracts that included 25 pages of instructions explaining how to use their online submission system.

Think about the message that sends to potential submitters. How many are going to look forward to submitting an abstract when they're being told—quite clearly—that not only is the first bite going to be hard to swallow, but that if they're selected, the rest of the process is probably going to be just as bad?

No submission process should require reams of instructions. But that's beside the point. The real point is this: Your call is often your first impression with potential submitters. Don't waste it turning people off.

Monday, May 3, 2010

4 Tips for Getting Announcement Emails Noticed

The most important part of any email is the subject line. Think of it as the "packaging" for your message. Not only should it summarize the contents, it must also pique the recipient's interest enough to make him want to open the message to find out more.

So why do so many conferences send out call notices with uninteresting subject lines like "Annual Meeting Call for Speakers Now Open" or "Call for Speakers - Annual Meeting"? Are call announcements an exception to the rule? Of course not. While it may be easy to get people who are already excited about speaking at your conference to open up an email from you, those aren't the people you need to worry about. They've already committed to action. Instead, you should be focused on people who don't know about your conference or who might be on the fence about responding to your call.

Here are some tips for engaging those people:

  • Keep it short. The more words you use, the more likely your message will be muddled. Keep the details for the body of the message.
  • Define value. Tell the recipient up front what he gets out of opening the message.
  • Convey urgency. People are far more likely to act when there's a deadline.
  • Personalize. Keep the focus on the recipient.

Friday, April 30, 2010

How Not to Write a Call for Papers

Dr. Jody Byrne has received quite a few calls for papers over the years. One he received recently, however, really caught his attention... for all the wrong reasons.

As Dr. Byrne points out, "Calls for papers are supposed to inspire, encourage and explain. All this one does is bombard you with jargon, vague descriptions and non-explanations and then give you a bit of a headache."

Have you ever received a particularly bad call for papers? What stood out about it? What could have made it better?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tweet Archive

For anyone who wants to capture and archive tweets from a conference, you might want to check out TweetNotes.

What makes the app so special? For one thing, it's free. It also lets you:

  • Add context by incorporating content, like slides and handouts.
  • Organize multiple sessions under one meeting space.
  • Visualize participants.
  • Embed in blogs, Web sites, etc.
  • Archive activity for future reference.

The developers say they're planning a lot more features, including additional collaboration tools. We're not sure how they plan to monetize it, so it might not be the best option for mission-critical applications, but definitely worth looking into.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Feature: Grouped Checkboxes

Our drag-and-drop form builder now allows multiple checkbox items in a single form element.

Why is this important? Let's say you want to collect A/V requirements from your speakers. Before, you had to create a separate question on the form for each requirement:

Now, you can include all of those checkboxes in one element:

We've also added new requirement options for grouped checkboxes: You can make the checkboxes optional, you can require that at least one box be checked, or you can require all the boxes to be checked.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Usability Enhancements

We've just released two enhancements that make the site a little easier to use...

For call administrators: We've made it easier—and faster—to view submission details from the Submissions page. Previously, when you clicked on a submission's title, you were taken to a new page. Now, the same information is displayed in an overlay.

For authors: We've added a tab to the top of the proposal screens that links to the call's submission instructions. Now you have access to that information throughout the entire submission process. (Previously, the instructions were only displayed when you first created the proposal.)

Let us know what you think!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New Feature: Late Submissions

ProposalSpace now allows you to accept late submissions for a call without having to change the call's official submission deadline. The new setting (named "Late Submissions") is on the Submission Settings page right below the Submission Deadline field.

If you enter anything other than zero in the field, ProposalSpace will continue to allow submissions for that number of days without altering the official submission deadline. We'll also display a notice to users letting them know that although the submission deadline has passed, late submissions are still being accepted.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Introductory Pricing Extended

We've extended our introductory pricing another month!

Just start a call in ProposalSpace before April 1, 2010 and you'll lock in the special pricing of $49.95 to activate the call and $4.50 for every submission. You don't have to activate the call before April 1, you just have to create it by then.

So hurry up and start your calls before this offer ends!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Standardized Guidelines

We recently came across an article by Dr. Stuart J. Salasche in the June, 1997 issue of Dermatologic Surgery in which he suggested eight steps reviewers should take when reviewing journal manuscripts. We've modified them slightly to come up with what we think are valuable guidelines that should be at the core of any review process:

  1. Read the material once through to gain a general familiarity with it.
  2. Identify the author's main objective or hypothesis.
  3. Reread the material as many times as necessary to gain a full understanding of it.
  4. Determine if the main objective was satisfied or the hypothesis proven.
  5. Determine if new or valid information was provided or if older material was successfully assimilated and clarified.
  6. Decide whether the material should be accepted or rejected.
  7. Suggest ways the material could be improved.

Are these guidelines sufficient? Are they too specific? Are they just right? Let us know your thoughts.