Are conference proceedings papers useful

I’m composing my proceedings paper for STC Summit 2014. Not all conferences require a proceedings paper. This set me wondering: Do people find proceedings papers useful? Do you read them, either during or after the conference, or perhaps not at all?

The “proceedings” of a conference is a collection of papers written by conference speakers. The content of a proceedings paper may be a summary of the talk, or an academic treatment of the topic of the talk, or a deep dive into one aspect of the talk.

My upcoming presentation at STC Summit 2014 is API Technical Writing: What, Why and How. For the proceedings paper, I’ve decided to write a deep-dive description of APIs. In the live session at the conference, I’ll cover the same content in less depth, then focus on examples of APIs and on their documentation, and on the role of the technical writer.

Some conferences ask speakers to present their slides a couple of months ahead of the conference date, so that the slides can be included in the documentation handed out to attendees. Others, like STC Summit, ask for a proceedings paper ahead of time, and the slides much closer to the date of the event.

When attending a conference session, I sometimes follow along on the slides if they’re part of the conference package. This is helpful if I can’t see the screen too well, or if I want to make notes on the slides. It’s very seldom that I refer to the conference proceedings. I think I’ve only done that once or twice throughout the years, and it’s been when I want an in depth look into the topic of a particularly interesting session.

What do you think? Are proceedings papers useful, how do you use them, and do you prefer the slides, the papers, or both?

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 16 March 2014, in technical writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I wonder, too. I have read some proceedings. I prefer the articles with a straightforward (vs an academic, out-to-impress) style.

    The thing I like about proceedings is the ability to dip into presentations that I missed or remind myself of key points in a presentation I liked.

    Slides can (sort of) do the same thing, but slides that were created to supplement a live presentation often don’t—and shouldn’t be expected to—stand alone.

  2. I have not used them. I find that STC requirements are too stringent. I present at many conferences. I just don’t have the time to complete all this overhead stuff.

  3. I find proceedings really useful, whether I attended the conference or not. When they’re freely available, they’re more accessible, more self-contained, more substantial than any other free tech comm resource I know.

    About ten years ago, I got a lot of my tech comm education from STC proceedings that were then still freely available and searchable from (many of the old links died when the STC revamped its web site).

    I would agree that many good tech comm blogs contain similar information, but I find it harder to piece together and harder to reference.

    Maybe it’s my former academic training that got me into the habit of writing papers, but I find that writing an article for the proceedings isn’t an undue overhead for a well-researched presentation, and I’m glad to do since I believe in the added value.

  4. Proceeding papers are a great feedback loop between academia, organizations such as the STC, and businesses. Grad students read and cite these papers when preparing research papers for their classes. A proceeding paper may not always find its way into citations in published journal articles. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t being consumed; and by a wider audience than conference attendees. Whenever I was a assigned a research paper for a subject that required investigation into latest trends and innovations, I had to rely on conference proceedings. The information just wasn’t available anywhere else. As a student, that exposed me to so many new ideas that I would not have been exposed to otherwise.

  5. The days are long gone when a conference presentation consisted of reading a paper aloud. We have many other means available now to quickly disseminate a paper to our professional colleagues. A modern conference presentation (at least the good ones) is an interactive multimedia event with visuals and audience interaction forming a large part of the value. The best way to capture that experience for those who could not attend is not a paper but a video.

    A conference proceedings paper is not, therefore, a record of what transpired at the conference. It is just a paper, and we have better means for sharing papers with our peers. I can see that proceedings have some value of the academic members of STC who are forced to deal with the antiquated publication-based merit system of academia, but they are an unnecessary inconvenience for the rest of us.

    • Would you get behind the inconvenience of a peer review process for videos of conference sessions?

      • A conference paper is being reviewed by the people listening to it.

        I’m no fan of the peer review process, as it tends to do more to enforce academic power structures and received orthodoxies than to promote excellence in scholarship.Public review through open notebook science seems a far more appropriate mechanism for the modern world. It has been consistently demonstrated that diversity of backgrounds produces better review and critique of ideas than peer review. Experts in a field tend to all think alike, and the peer review process only serves to reinforce that lack of diversity.

        But if academics must have peer review for the sake of career advancement, there are plenty of outlets for that without imposing a proceedings papers requirement on practitioners whose work is judged, and preferment obtained, by other, more market driven measurements.

        There is certainly a place for academic papers, but the practice of publishing conference proceedings goes back to a time when a conference was the only way for peers in a field to communicate with each other effectively. That is not the case any more, and the conference plays a different role today.Its virtue today is in bring people who talk to each other regularly over the Web into a place where they can talk face to face. Publishing proceedings does nothing to enhance that experience.

      • That is an interesting alternative. Given the current state of higher education and the expectations for what those students (not career academics) can and can not cite in their unpublished schoolwork, letting the market decide doesn’t help those students to gain exposure to all of the good stuff that gets disseminated via conferences. And why should we wait until people are out of school to begin the discussion? But maybe I’m thinking more in terms of using existing channels and you are proposing a restructuring of formal education. Either way isn’t there is a societal value to checks against bad assertions and identifiers for useful ones? Maybe the market does a better than the peer review process. Either one can be subverted when money is involved. The remnants of journalism seem to be the only balance against that.

  6. I prefer having access to slides or papers online during and after the conference. ALISE did a nice job this year in making content available, including posters via an app. Worked well for me. BTW I often look in SlideShare for conference presentations and so always hope that people place stuff there. And I should say that I don’t want paper!

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