Guidelines for Student Papers

The Canadian Association for Biological Anthropology (CABA) is the professional body for biological anthropologists in Canada. Student members have always been a significant portion of our membership and CABA meetings have become a great venue for students to get their start in conference paper or poster presentation. There is no doubt that participation in academic conferences is an important rite of passage for students and the aim of this document is to not only aid future student paper judges but to act as a practical resource for those students who are either first time or repeat presenters. Student papers will be assessed in the following three areas:

The Abstract: Are the essential elements of the paper outlined in the prescribed format?
The Study: Is the research problem clearly articulated? Is specific attention paid to the originality and significance of the study and the appropriateness of the methods utilized in the research?
The Presentation: Is the presentation organized and concise, allowing time for questions to be asked? Is the delivery of the paper proffered in an articulate and measured manner? Do the visual aids effectively complement the oral presentation? Does the student effectively answer questions posed?


A superior abstract will convey the importance of your research in a concise and logical manner. Through publication in the conference program (and possibly the CABA newsletter), the abstract will also provide an important record of your conference participation and attract the interest of reviewers and colleagues, many of whom may not attend the conference itself. In theory, you should draft your abstract, use it as an outline to write the paper and finally, revise your abstract for submission. While this order is flexible, you must be certain that if you submit the abstract prior to writing the paper that your research results and conclusions coincide with those data that were previously submitted. Since the abstract is a synopsis of the original study, it should address the research problem, the information and methods used to address this problem and your conclusions. The abstract should present only key points without exceeding a length of 300 words; the use of technical jargon and the citing of references should be avoided. If the abstract is summarizing information to be presented as a poster, this should be clearly stated within the abstract itself. Finally, be sure to proofread, proofread, proofread! Typically, CABA organizers prefer the e-mailed format for abstract submission, however check the website of each local arrangement committee to find out what they prefer.


One of the strengths of CAPA is that, given the size of our annual meeting, concurrent sessions are absent or very limited (e.g. just one half-day). Therefore, it is possible for everyone attending the meeting to see every or at least most presentations. While this allows biological anthropologists from different subdisciplines the chance to hear about each other’s work, it also creates a challenge for the presenter. Because each presenter will be addressing colleagues from outside their own area of expertise, it is especially important to state concisely:

  1. Why this research is original;
  2. Why it is significant, and
  3. What methods were used and why they were appropriate.

You, as a presenter, must be cautious to ensure that the methods do not become the bulk of the presentation. While it is safe to assume some basic knowledge of methods on the part of the audience, a jargon-filled presentation aimed primarily at kindred specialists in the audience will only serve to frustrate and aggravate others in attendance. By paying attention to these details and providing the audience with the “research context” of your study, the results on which you are reporting will hold greater impact. Remember, it is your results and the conclusions you draw from them that you really want to communicate.


It is important to remember that your audience is likely to be tired, thirsty, hungry, hot, uncomfortable, cranky, etc. This means that most will have a limited attention span. It is, therefore, up to you to make their job of listening and understanding as easy as possible. This can be accomplished through:

A) Organization: Above all, PLEASE respect the time restrictions of the session. For a 15 minute time slot, your presentation should take up no more than 12-13 minutes, allowing a few minutes for questions. If you write out your paper, this translates to about eight pages, double-spaced (10 pt.). The chair of your session typically will let you know when you have two minutes remaining in your allotted slot. The best way to ensure that you don’t go over your time is to PRACTICE presenting your paper and timing yourself. Practice in front of a trusted friend, your supervisor and/or fellow graduate students so that they can give you feedback on your presentation style. Although this sounds like very common sense, you would be surprised at how many good papers fail because the presenter was not heeding these simple tips.

This brings up another time-tested presentation tip — the so-called K.I.S.S. approach (keep it short and simple; don’t try to say too much). Choose only key points to convey to the audience and save the details for: a) the paper that you write up for journal submission; b) sharing with your colleagues in the same research area; c) the cocktail hour at the CABA banquet; or d) your dissertation. Once you have decided which aspects of your research to highlight, craft your talk using advice that we have all been given at one time or another: “Tell us what you’re going to talk about, talk about it, then tell us what you’ve just talked about”.

B) Delivery: Ignoring the fact that the number one fear of people is public speaking, delivering a paper need not be a stressful situation. Believe it or not, even your most seasoned colleagues and professors still get nervous before presenting! One professor used to advise us to, “Put the fear in your feet!”. You may feel more comfortable if you write out your paper in full sentences and paragraphs. While this is a fine way to prepare and provides practice for timing, it is not necessarily easy for listeners to follow papers that are read, so avoid the temptation to read directly from the text. If you have practiced enough, you should not have to rely solely on your written pages and should not be at a loss should you happen to lose your place on the page (it might be advisable to STAPLE your written pages together so that they do not get out of order). Reading the paper also means that you are less able to fully address the audience. Delivery is a very important part of the evaluation criteria. It is crucial to keep the interest of your audience by addressing them directly, making eye contact (which makes it harder for them to “zone out”), and by being animated at the podium. John Wayne’s advice is sage; however, when presenting one should speak in a loud, clear voice). Try not to rush through your paper (a hazard of not enough practice), as listeners can get very annoyed with this.

C) Visual Aids: Visuals are an important part of most oral presentations. Come to your session well before it starts with a USB copy of your presentation saved as both a PowerPoint file and a pdf (in case the items on the PowerPoint have shifted dramatically and there isn’t time to fix it). Do not expect the organizers will have the time or set-up needed for you to plug in your own laptop (you can imagine how time consuming this would be if every presenter wanted to use their own laptop). By coming to your session well before it starts you should have a few minutes to ensure the slides look correct (and if not, to fix anything that has ‘jumped around’) and that any transitions or animations are working properly (if not, there will be an AV person on hand to help). If your session is in the morning we recommend you be there at least 20 minutes in advance. If your session is in the afternoon you may be able to load after the conclusion of the morning session at the start of the lunch break or be there 20 minutes before the session is due to begin. The session organizers or an AV volunteer will be there to help you (do not try to load your talk without one of them on hand).

PowerPoint presentations should not be too “busy”, but provide viewers with aids complementary to your talk. Clearly, visuals give your audience something to focus on while you talk and, if properly employed, can be a very useful device for conveying your key points. Good visuals, however, require planning. Take care of the technical details, like ensuring they have enough contrast, are not too dark or too busy, and that the font is legible. Flashing endless slides of complicated tables, figures or statistics is overwhelming, frustrating, and sleep-inducing. Presenters should also consider using colour schemes that are accessible to audiences with vairous types of colour-blindness. There is a common notion that there should be one slide per minute (thus you want around 12 ‘main’ slides, not including the title page, references cited, and/or acknowledgements/funding slides), but of course you should tailor this to your content with some slides only needing to up briefly and others needing to be up longer. And remember, talk to the audience, not to your slides (i.e. don’t turn your side or back to the audience) and speak up so folks can hear you.

You will typically be provided with a laser pointer and depending on the size of the room there may be a microphone. You may want to check if presenter view in PowerPoint will be available to you. If it is not (or you’re not sure), be sure to print off a hard copy of your PowerPoint presentation that contains the notes (print “notes page”).


i) Making a Poster: Be aware that each meeting may have different poster dimension parameters based on the poster boards they will be using so check this first. Then check that your poster sizing is in accordance with these parameters before you begin. Ensure your poster is not overly saturated with text. There is no word count limit but effective posters usually contain fewer than 1200, or even better 1000, words. You do NOT have to include your abstract on the poster. Keep the flow of information intuitive to the viewer. Too much data or text can be overwhelming for those browsing. Keep your title snappy! You want something memorable that doesn’t require additional explanation. Make sure the title is of a size that can be easily read from a few meters away (usually 60 point font or larger). Be sure to list all authors and affiliations underneath the title (authors names usually in about 36-44 point font and affiliation information in about 24 point font). Body text should be easily legible from a meter or so back (usually no smaller than 24 point, with >30 point even better; obviously the size will be somewhat dependant on the font you choose). The font size of references cited and acknowledgements/funding sections can be much smaller (e.g. 12 or 10 point), with these sections tucked into a corner or along the bottom. Organize information into clear sections using headings, for example, introduction/background, methods, results, etc. The font size of the headings is usually 36 point or larger. Ensure your poster layout follows the narrative of your short talk (see explanation below). This will make it easier for your audience to follow and will ensure that nothing is omitted. Use a single sans-serif font (e.g. Arial, Avenir), as this ensures that your poster is not visually overwhelming and can be easily read. Pick a simple colour scheme that does not detract from your figures. Any images on the poster should be of high resolution (SVG file types can help to avoid scaling resolution issues). Ensure all tables and figures are numbered in the order in which they appear, are given a title/caption, and are referred to in the text so the reader knows when they are supposed to look at the table or figure.

ii) Presenting: Have a short (3-5 minute) speech prepared to present your poster. When presenting allow viewers to observe the poster before reaching out. Try not to stand in a way that obscures theposter. Try to engage all people interested in your poster without allowing for one or two people to take up all your time. Acknowledge everyone who stops to look at your poster even if it’s just with a glance, not everyone wants to talk, but a smile never hurts!

iii) Handouts. Some poster presenters like to print off a batch of 8 x 11.5 copies of their poster for distribution to interested readers. Black and white copies are obviously more affordable than color copies, but presenters may want a few color copies meant for specific individuals or VIPs. Many of us enjoy collecting these so we can read the poster more closely at a later date (assuming most of the text remained legible on the 8 x 11.5) and bring it home with us for future consultation. Alternatively, to cut back on paper use, some poster presenters make their poster available online and provide readers with the link where that can be found.

We hope that these guidelines will make it easier to understand what goes into a good conference presentation and ultimately aid you in having a gratifying and valuable experience.


Prepared by Ian Colquhoun, Loren Vanderlinden, Jennifer Thompson and Paul Vasey in 2000.
Updated by Elizabeth Jewlal, Kathy Willmore and Andrea Waters-Rist in 2018.
Updated by Asta Rand following recommendations of the Subcommittee of Diversity and Decolonization 2019.