Abstracts are like sculptures … and sometimes trees
GSA is appropriate for my tectonic interests — I will be presenting the results of this work, which is now in press. AGU can be hit or miss for me, but this year there is a fantastic session about external vs. internal forcings on stratigraphic patterns that I was invited to present at (plus it’s local for me, which makes it a no-brainer). AAPG is inherently more applied as a whole, but the meeting usually includes at least a few sessions that delve into basic sedimentary research so it is definitely worth attending.
The deadlines for abstracts for these three meetings are all within a month of each other — the last one, AAPG, is due next week — so I’ve been fairly busy writing my own and reviewing those on which I’m a coauthor.
My strategy for writing conference abstracts has changed over the years. I used to be more concerned with getting the wording exactly right from the start. These days, I tend to go for the ‘brain dump’ method — I just start writing thoughts in a more prose-like way. It is certainly a giant mess at first. Sometimes I still find myself bogged down on details and wordsmithing at this stage, but I try to snap myself out of that. Instead of the blank canvas analogy, I think of it as putting all the clay into a pile before making a sculpture (note: I have no actual experience sculpting, so I could be way off with this analogy). You gotta have something to work with first! You need a lump of ‘stuff’ that can be thrown around and shaped into a general form. And you don’t want to spend time working on nuanced finishing touches at this stage … who knows, the entire thing might need to be reformed. As the form takes shape and looks like something recognizable, the rough edges can be smoothed out and, hopefully, a worthwhile product is created.
For abstracts on which I’m a coauthor I think of them as trees that need some pruning. If it’s in a good shape, just a bit of small-scale pruning around the edges — you know, to make it look a little prettier. If the abstract needs more work, I might modify more significantly — in some cases, I’ll bring out the chainsaw and get rid of substantial limbs. Very rarely do I need to chop the tree down and plant a new one.