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Be sure to also check out a few past accepted submissions.

How to Write a Great UXPA Boston Proposal

A proposal is a form of communication. The first step in writing effective communication is in understanding your audience. Remember, that you have two audiences with your proposal.

Your first audience is the Reviewers. You want to be as specific as possible about what you will cover, to give them the confidence that you know your material and that you will do a good job presenting it. This also helps the program planners more accurately curate the content and make sure that you’re scheduled appropriately. Remember that reviews are blind, so don’t assume anyone already knows you or your work.

Your second audience is the Attendees. Your title and description will be used in the official conference schedule, so you want to set appropriate expectations for them. Be clear about what you will cover, and make sure that your title and description accurately describe your session’s content.

Be clear and concise, and sell your idea.

1. Pick a descriptive title
Some people like to write catchy titles. It’s good to get attention, but is it getting the attention of the right people? Think about the audience that you want, and make sure that you are attracting them. When in doubt, take clarity over catchiness.

2. Be specific about your topic

  • Identify the issue
    • What is the issue that your proposal is addressing? Define it and make it clear why it is important. Why should people care about your session?
  • What is your purpose?
    • Once you establish the issue, what do you propose to do about it? Will you be educating people on ways they can avoid problems? Will you be demonstrating how you have overcome those challenges in your projects? Will you be leading a discussion to generate ideas to address the issue in the field? Make it clear why people should want to attend your session.
  • What will you cover?
    • Be specific. Don’t say “I will discuss some ways to overcome these issues…”, say “I will discuss these 5 methods…”. Don’t worry about giving away too much – adding this level of detail will give reviewers of your proposal confidence that you know your material and have organized it well.
  • Who should come?
    • Not every session is for every attendee. If you’re presenting basic or introductory information about a topic, say so. If you’re delving into the details in a way that requires a good amount of previous experience with the topic, say that, too. Is your session more relevant for people from larger companies or agencies? In short – make sure your description helps attendees determine whether this is the right session for them.
  • What will attendees learn?
    • Make it explicit. What will they learn that they can take away and use on their jobs tomorrow? Make it clear what they will walk away with and why your session is worth their time.
  • Why are you qualified?
    • Bring some specifics to bear as to why you are uniquely qualified to present on this topic. Rather than “I have 10 years experience in…”, say something like “I’ve interviewed over 50 users on this topic.”

3. Write Clearly

  • Use active voice
    • Write in the first person and use active voice. As my junior high English teacher said, remove any form of “to be” from your sentences. Write “I/We conducted 20 usability test sessions.” Instead of “20 usability test sessions were conducted.”
  • Use short sentences
    • Short, simple sentences are better than joining them with “and”, “therefore”, “as well as”, etc.
  • Be brief
    • Write just enough to get your points across.

4. Check it
Have someone else read your proposal. If they don’t ‘get it’, find out why and fix it. Make sure that your proposal stands on it’s own without explanation and conveys your key points.

Simple proofreading is important, too. Typos and grammatical errors decrease your credibility. Whether English is your first, second, or third language, find a quality grammarian to look it over and fix your comma splices.

5. Start Writing Early
Proposal writing takes longer than you think. Yes, the submission form is short, but that means you need to work harder to get your point across in fewer words. If you leave writing your proposal until deadline day, you may ruin your chances to get accepted.

You have wonderful things to say, so give yourself the chance to be heard and start early.
Special thanks to Giles Colborne, whose blog post on How to write a killer proposal for UPA 2012 inspired this article.