Abstract Tips for PASS Summit 2020

Last year was a pretty dismal year for me from a speaking standpoint, while I did have some success early on like a sold out Azure Data Factory Precon at SQLBits, for a variety of reasons the remainder of the year was less than stellar. I ended up missing a few events due to weather, not getting sessions submitted in time, spacing out on other events entirely.

All of these factors coupled with not getting picked for some of the larger events that I submitted too was a bit disheartening. Historically, I have had good luck getting accepted at events and while I don't expect to get selected, rejection is a cruel and bitter mistress.

 As I started thinking about this, I realized that I have just kind of been coasting by and getting sloppy with my abstract creation and submission process.

In previous years I served on the PASS Program Committee. So I have seen a fair amount of abstracts in my time, In order to help prevent you from falling into this trap and with PASS 2020 abstract submission season upon us, I present without fanfare and in no particular order my tips for writing better abstracts:

Time keeps on slipping

Image result for steve miller band time keeps on slipping

Allow yourself plenty of time to submit

One of the worst things you can do is try to create and submit an abstract in the last two hours before the call for speakers ends (ask me how I know). This will never end well, and wastes your time and the time of the poor souls on the abstract review team. If you are predisposed to procrastination, setup a calendar reminder with the event submission deadline.

Don't hate the player hate the game

Image result for dont hate the player hate the game

 Know the rules of engagement

Sadly, most events think they are special snowflakes and often have their own rules about the  abstract and title length as well as the fields of information they think are relevant (a note to organizers: just use sessionize your crappy home brew session submission app might have been cool in 2008 and but time has moved on). So before you even start writing your abstract, understand the additional information required, and the length restrictions. Nothing is more frustrating then writing a clever title or a super detailed abstract only to get denied entry due to a character limita…  :)


So fresh and so clean

Image result for so fresh and so clean

Keep it simple stupid

Avoid heavy markup and formatting stick to basics as these can often get mangled or stripped entirely during the submission process often leaving your abstract incomprehensible. Also if you have been resubmitting the same abstract to many events, try to see if you can update it a bit or customize it for the event. No one is interested in hearing about the new features released in SQL server 2012 when it is 2019 2020.


After writing the abstract set it aside for 24hrs  and come back to it. Do this before asking others to review it. After you feel like it is ready to submit, see if you can find another person to review it. It can be helpful if you can get a review from someone who is an expert in the area to ensure you are covering relevant topics and that your abstract is the best kind of correct (Technically Correct™). It is also wise to have someone from your target audience or with little exposure to the topic review it. This will ferret out any assumptions that might have been made and possibly help you determine if the topic is relevant to the audience you are targeting.

Once you get the feedback, incorporate it. Next give it one more final review before submitting. It can also be helpful to read it aloud. I suspect many of you have small children, pets, or house plants that would love the privledge of hearing your abstract brought to life orally.

If you feel silly doing this imagine how silly you will feel when they pick another abstract and then read your aloud using your best Kirk imitation. Suddenly you won't feel so silly (YMMV depending on your skill at star trek cosplaying).

Bonus Round

As a special bonus tip at no charge to you, here are two of the best blog posts on the abstract drafting and creation process by two guys that need no introduction:

I'll show you mine if you show me yours

Image result for boys watchign each other pee

I'm always interested in reviewing abstracts and providing feedback. Feel free to send me yours (jason@jasonhorner.com) and if time permits, I will give it a quick review. Also if you know of other blog posts about the abstract creation and session submissions process send those along as well and I will update my post to include them with attribution back to you.


rg said...

Thanks for taking the time to show new people the way! Nice post :)

Deron Dilger said...

Yet again, Jason, your generous spirit, humor, and wisdom come through. Thanks!