Conference papers

What kinds are there? We all know about the doctoral research in progress, the full research paper nearly an article lookalike, and the working paper in between, where the full results are not expected but a substantial view of the literature should be started.

But the real conference experience shows a different typology. There are the “I did this” report papers – often the least interesting unless you are keen to do exactly the same thing yourself. There are the “This is what we did and we evaluated it” papers, which offer at least a little evaluation of the action or event but still belong to a remote academic island somewhere we may not wish to visit. Then we have the “I met some people from other universities and we did the same thing in different places” paper. This one has more research pretensions and might be useful to listen to, but is still largely located in the “thing we did”.

What other kinds of papers present themselves? There are the straight literature reviews, which are honest about search terms and targets and don’t expect to be more than a lit report. I like this kind of paper because it genuinely offers some work you might not have to do yourself, and gives a meta-analysis to some extent of a particular area. They often present with some kind of flaw, e.g. a severe limitation on target journals or search terms, but are upfront about that.

Then we have the researcher opinion piece: The “I have done quite a bit of research and this is what I think” paper. These vary hugely in quality – some genuinely stimulating and creative – these are the ones not to miss. Others can turn out to be founded in a narrow field or limited experience and offer only thinly disguised personal opinion without evidence.

Don’t forget the sponsors! These are papers which have been commissioned somehow by a provider of software, learning resource, hardware etc who look this way for academic credibility, enjoining academics to trial and publish. Not all bad, they offer ideas and examples, but are not so often highly rigorous because of the limited choice of software, resource or hardware.

OK, there are also some really good papers reporting dimensions of a major research project. The downsides here are usually that sources of funding are precious so researchers sometimes use these as an opportunity to boast, or milk the project with x papers about only slightly different aspects of the project.

Am I sounding cynical? Tell me what I have missed here.

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