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Creating Stronger AECT Convention Proposals
Suggestions from the
Program Planning Committee

Many organizations’ annual conventions are highly competitive and one needs to submit a strong proposal in order to get onto the program. AECT sets a high expectation for the quality of our convention program. Acceptance rates vary from year to year but clearly the proposal process has become much more competitive in recent years across all categories: posters, roundtables, workshops, and concurrent sessions.

But what makes a strong proposal? That is, what appeals to reviewers and program planners? What do they look for and how can you develop the strongest proposal possible?

Here, we offer 15 principles (in no particular order) and each principle is followed by specific tips to strengthen your proposal. We include tips about both style and substance, including how to make your proposal more visually appealing. While some of these tips will require a little bit of technical know-how (like how to insert HTML codes in the online proposal submission form), you can implement most of these principles with little additional effort.

Principle 1: A strong proposal is one that matches the Call for Proposals and is well matched to program initiatives and themes.
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Principle 2: : Proposals that comply with the stated submission requirements are much more likely to be accepted.
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Principle 3: Reviewers tend to infer that the properties of the proposal will be the properties of the presenter or presentation.
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Principle 4: A strong proposal has few errors and looks polished and professional.
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If you type your proposal directly into the online boxes, the online system will not do spell-check or grammar-check. Any errors will make it to the reviewer. To prevent this, create your proposal first in a word processor. Microsoft Word, for example, will highlight misspelled words and possible grammar errors, helping you catch them. In addition, you can highlight your proposal’s text and then use the Word Count tool under the Tools pull-down menu to find out exactly how many words you have used (and thus make sure you do not exceed the word limit specified by the guidelines). If you have trouble spotting errors that spell-check and grammar-check don’t catch (like using “their” when you mean “there,” or omitting words), consider having someone proofread your word-processed document. Often you can make a deal to have a friend who reads carefully do this for some negotiated quantity of adult beverages. Once you know your proposal is free from typos and other problems, highlight it again, copy it, and then paste it into the online submission form.

Now, visual appeal should take a backseat to content in reviewing, but reviewers are humans. Humans appreciate good layout. It makes a proposal easier to read. In a subtle way, this may influence reviewer perceptions of the quality of a proposal. Unfortunately, our current online submission form does not allow you to paste a word-processed document into the form and retain its character formatting (font, type size, bold, italics, underline). It does retain carriage returns and skipped lines, however.

Since reviewers read the proposals online, you could use what we know about readability of on-screen text to make your proposal easier to read: Headers that stand out from the text can help readers. (This could mean using all-caps for headers when you cannot use bold.). Shorter paragraphs are easier to read than longer ones. Skipped lines between paragraphs make the text easier to read. Using indents at the start of paragraphs actually makes it harder to read on-screen text. And it is more difficult to read more than a few words written in all caps than to read the same text in standard sentence form with caps only at the start of the sentence and for proper names.

So, if you obeyed these rules, you would likely use short all-caps headers to indicate section headings and would use short paragraphs (likely two to four sentences in length). You would skip lines between paragraphs in your proposal and would not indent paragraphs. You would avoid all-caps in general. You could, of course use the asterisk (*) to indicate an important word that normally would be bolded or italicized in settings where character formatting was available. (This means if we wished to emphasize the word “important” in the previous sentence, we would have written that section of the sentence as, “…to indicate an *important* word that normally…”) Given what you know about overuse of character highlighting, however, you would use very few such asterisked words in your proposal.

If you know how to use HTML tags, however, you can control the layout of your proposal even more than this. By embedding HTML tags in your proposal, you can put your headings in bold, can control the line spacing, and can use all kinds of character-highlighting techniques and font sizes. Please only use HTML tags in the 'Abstract' portion of the form. Do not enter HTML tags in the Title, Short Description, or with the presenter's information. If you do not know how to use HMTL tags, your proposal is *not* the place to experiment, however, you may confirm that your HTML tags are the proper ones before you submit your proposal (possibly through previewing your text as a Web page). If you want a list of HTML tags, there are many sites on the Web that give you lists of tags (see for example, http://www.tizag.com/htmlT/formattags.php and http://werbach.com/barebones/barebones.html)

Given the new freedom embedded HTML tags give you in terms of formatting, a couple of rules about readability for formatted on-screen text are in order: Bold should be used sparingly because—like extended passages in all-caps—it makes a passage harder to read. Italics are less legible on-screen than regular type. Consistency in size and font enhance readability, while too many font types and sizes reduce readability. For further guidance on fonts, character formatting, and readability, see http://www.metatoggle.com/design_crs/ttools.html and Robin Williams’ excellent book, The Non-designers’ Design Book (Barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com).

Principle 5: Strong proposals have the potential to interest more people.
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Principle 6: A strong proposal is well organized and logical.
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Principle 7: Strong proposals use proper English expression and grammar.
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Principle 8: Proposals that make a real contribution are more appealing than ones that do not.
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Principle 9: A strong proposal is well-informed.
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Principle 10: Strong proposals make clear what their objectives are.
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Principle 11: A proposal submitted to the proper division is more likely to be accepted.
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Principle 12: A strong proposal describes what will occur during the presentation.
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Principle 13:: Research studies in progress are less likely to be accepted
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Principle 14: A proposal that chooses the right delivery format and requests the appropriate amount of time is more likely to be accepted than one that does not.
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Principle 15:: Deadlines matter.
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Final Comments


Clearly we do not wish to impair your creativity, nor restrict your freedom. Our goal is to build a strong convention program. A strong convention program supports and enhances the strength of the organization. But we recognize that a strong program begins with strong proposals. We hope this guide helps you produce the strongest proposal you can and that you make it onto the convention program. Please respect the volunteer reviewers’ and planners’ time. The more closely you follow these guidelines and clearly aid the reviewers in understanding your proposal, the better your chances for acceptance.