Department of English

How to Write a Conference Abstract

An abstract is a short summary of the full paper you intend to present at a conference. You may already have the paper written and be summarizing from the completed text or you may be simply presenting an idea for a paper you intend to write before the conference. A good abstract will present the paper’s thesis—or primary claim—and will then give a brief sense of how that thesis will be proven—or claim pursued. In other words, you want to give the conference organizers a clear sense of the topic, direction and process of your paper, including the text(s) and author(s) it will focus on. Be sure to include your name, contact information (especially a valid email address), the name of the college or university you’re affiliated with, and a title for the proposed paper that is descriptive of the focus and argument of the paper (as opposed to a generic title like, “Conference Paper” or “Poe Analysis” or “Descriptive Essay”). Abstracts for the New Critics should be between 150-250 words. The following is an example of a functioning abstract that fulfills the above requirements.


Bianca Tredennick, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English--SUNY Oneonta

Home Address:
Phone number:
Email: tredenbp@oneonta.edu


“Proofs of so wild a story”: Writing the (Un)Real in Dracula


Stoker’s ­Dracula is a novel of obsessive record keeping. At points in the novel, Mina Harker, Jonathan Harker, Lucy Westenra, Jack Seward, and Abraham Van Helsing each talk about the importance of their journals and diaries. Jonathan Harker, for instance, responds to the collapse of his rational world in Dracula’s castle by “turn[ing] to my diary for repose. The habit of entering accurately must . . . soothe me.” And elsewhere he justifies the prolix nature of his diary by stating that “I began to fear . . . that I was getting too diffuse; but now I am glad that I went into detail. . . . Let me be prosaic so far as facts can be; . . . imagination must not run riot with me.” Language such as this underscores the demon fighters’ investment in inscription as both the psychological refuge from and realistic counter to the supernatural threat posed by the vampires. Writing prosaic facts will somehow keep the supernatural at bay. But even as the demon fighters invest in inscription, they fear that the texts they create are sullied by the very supernaturalism they are designed to combat. Harker attempts to record only “bare, meagre facts, verified by books and figures” because he no longer trusts his “experiences . . . observation or . . . memory,” all of which testify to the reality of the supernatural, a reality which defies Harker’s Victorian rationalism. The source of Harker’s terror here is that he is caught in a terrible bind between rationalist empiricism of the sort he espouses and wants his diary to record, and the irrational supernatural that his observations and his diary empirically authenticate. Since Harker can not divest himself of either his skepticism or his belief in empiricism, he can only conclude that his own experiences are idiosyncratic delusions. However, once Harker has those delusions confirmed as reality by the consummate scientist, Van Helsing, he is enormously relieved. Knowing that “all I wrote down was true” has the complex effect of authenticating his empirical observations and the journal that records them. If the price for such a reconciliation is the adjustment of Harker’s world view to include the demonic supernatural, he is more than willing to pay it. In this way, I will argue that Stoker suggests that realism and its texts are both in opposition to and predicated on the supernatural. Further, I will examine the way in which Stoker suggests that the scientific method, which requires data to be shareable by all, not the unique product of a particular observer, also confuses the line between the supernatural and the real. On the one hand, it is based on the idea that reality exists independent of the observer. But on the other hand, it also suggests that any knowledge that is not reproducible is not valid. This is a crucial problem for Stoker’s characters, whose very efforts to write down (and thus share and validate) their experiences become the ironic means of robbing those experiences of any authenticity. As Harker concedes in the novel’s last page, “We could hardly ask anyone . . . to accept these as proofs of so wild a story.”