Office Hours–Proposal Writing Tips for First-Timers

Proposal Writing Tips for First-Timers
by Michelle Byrne, University of Akron
I wrote my first conference presentation proposal when I was first hired at my college. I had never heard of TYCA, never written a presentation proposal, was brand new to my college, and clueless. Fortunately, I had three outstanding colleagues who ignored all that and welcomed me to the team. We presented that fall in Duluth. Duluth I knew about, and I was excited to go. I love the Upper Midwest.

TYCA did not disappoint. I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect the practicality of the presentations. Going from session to session, I was taking notes on ways to grade, ideas for new assignments, interesting readings to share with students. These were all things I could apply when I got back to my classroom the next week or the next month.

I’m grateful to my co-presenters that year for inviting me to be on their team. I began thinking, though, about faculty who may not have a team to join or about faculty who want to start a team but don’t know where to begin. Consider this post an invitation to join our team. These tips might help if you are new to proposal writing.

Proposal Writing Tips for Newbies

  1. Realize you do things no one else is doing. No two people teach alike. Even ideas that you have borrowed from someone else have been adapted to suit your teaching personality and your goals for your students. Recognizing that is often a first step to creating a presentation. Excellent presentations are found in some very basic questions: what new reading or assignment have you tried? What inspired you to make that change? What challenges did you face implementing it? How did your students respond? What would you do differently in the future? Answer those questions and you have a solid hour presentation.
  1. Consider the conference theme. Every conference has a theme, but we keep them broad enough that it’s probably not difficult to connect your idea to it. Use your title to make the connection and the reviewers will appreciate the effort. We like to see some harmony among the presentations, so some relevance to the theme helps. However, don’t let the theme be a reason you don’t submit at all. If you try, but just can’t find that connection, submit your best idea anyway.
  1. Find a friend. Like most tasks, writing a proposal is easier with a buddy. Even if it seems like you don’t have anything in common pedagogically, usually, if you dig deep enough, you can find some common ground. Try finding a co-presenter from a different college or even in a different state. Consider how being at separate institutions influences your teaching. Maybe your student demographic or your institutional support is very different. Those are rich areas for presentation ideas.
  1. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Cliche, I know, but it’s true. If you have been to national conferences that are headlined by rock stars in the field or if you have been to sessions by people who have published several books, it’s easy to think that you have to be among their ranks to present. As a regional conference, TYCA-Midwest focuses on what instructors are doing in their classrooms and on their campuses. We want to know the problems you face and how you meet them. You don’t have to have the perfect CV or the perfect journal article. Good ideas matter. Write it up and send it in.
  1. Consider a workshop. I can lecture for about 15-20 minutes max. I’m not a fan of standing in front of a group of people and talking for a long time. Workshops are often the most popular conference sessions. Some of my favorites have been when the presenters take us through a lesson they do with their students. Attendees enjoy the experience of being a student and looking at it from the students’ perspective.

The due date for priority consideration is May 1. Download the proposal form from our Conference Information page to get started. TYCA is an excellent conference to start with if you’ve never presented at a conference before. Trust me.

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