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Crafting a conference abstract that resonates: An initial step into AAAL as a community of practice

Masaru Yamamoto, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia

Author Bio:

Masaru Yamamoto (he/him) is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of British Columbia. His primary scholarly interests and professional commitments encompass critical applied linguistics, multilingual socialization in postsecondary and other formal and informal settings, multimodality, social network analysis, and knowledge mobilization.

Visit his website for more information:  

Could you talk about yourself and share your research interest or agenda?


Thank you for having me! My name is Masaru Yamamoto, and I am a PhD Candidate at UBC. 

My primary research interests include university students’ multilingual socialization experiences. So I am interested to better understand how multilingual university students (like myself) navigate a new additional language community and seek to become its members, as well as the kinds of affordances, challenges, and various forms of barriers they experience/perceive. In my ongoing doctoral project, I am sharing a lot of time and spaces over a year with a cohort of approximately 60 study-abroad students (with focal students, in particular) from a Japanese university to explore the formations and transformations of their social networks within and beyond the program and how such changing interpersonal relationships shape and are shaped by their ongoing study-abroad socialization processes.

GSA award candidates are selected on the basis of the strength of their abstracts. What factors do you believe are essential when crafting a compelling abstract?


Let me first describe the nature of my previous work (AAAL GSA 2022). That paper was part of my master’s thesis, which focused on the multimodal dimension of academic discourse socialization (ADS) in an undergraduate geoscience classroom. Its central argument was, in order to better understand the nature of ADS  (not only in STEM fields but potentially in any classrooms), we should holistically examine how students use—and learn to use—not just language but various other kinds of multimodal meaning-making resources to construct and represent their knowledge in the course of academic socialization. So I framed this work as an invitation for ADS researchers and other applied linguists alike to look at not just language but also what’s traditionally called “non-linguistic” resources, including but not limited to visual, gestural/embodied, spatial, material, and many other kinds of resources (colour, proximity, gaze, pop cultural knowledge, etc.) to holistically understand the micro and broader processes of socialization. 

Before writing conference abstracts/proposals

I like to read conference/organizational descriptions like ‘About Us’ statement, leadership, etc. because they help me think if that particular conference or professional organization would really be of my interest, especially if I am a first-timer. And then I check descriptions for its strands (or domain-specific subgroups) to choose the right audience for my conference abstract. This strand selection is very important in the review process because, if you choose the right strand for your submission, you can expect that your reviewers are expert in and have some shared understandings of the chosen domain of applied linguistics research. Conversely, if you submit your paper to a completely wrong strand, your reviewers may not be able to properly evaluate your work. I also carefully read through the call for proposals/abstracts every year because key details and submission policies may be updated in a barely noticeable but very important way. For example, in the 2022 call, ‘potential to contribute to equity, diversity, inclusion and access’ was added to the traditional criteria (FYI: which is called justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion this year). In the 2024 call, AAAL welcomed multilingual abstract submissions. 

Writing conference abstracts/proposals 

I like to organize my abstracts with a two-paragraph structure. In the first paragraph, I always aim to situate my submitted work within the broader context of my research area, and if possible, applied linguistics more broadly. I also strive to explicitly make real-world connections to the social issues beyond our scholarly communities. In the second paragraph, I briefly mention the theoretical framework(s) and/or concepts used and then concisely state the research design, methods, analytic approaches, and then highlight the key findings and insights that I can offer to the audience. I know people have different preferences, but I always include 3–6 in-text citations to situate my research in the broader scholarly conversations in the field (Note that a full reference list is NOT necessary for AAAL abstracts).

Crafting effective conference abstracts and titles 

I craft the title of my submitted abstracts very carefully in the following ways: 

  1. In the abstract title, I always let the first 5–6 words speak all about the presentation. It is because I always want to communicate the key takeaways/juicy points straight to the readers of the conference program. 

  2. The title includes any keywords that may be searchable on the e-programme platform. It is because people usually run a search (as opposed to read through the entire program) to find presentations that are interesting to them.

How to find examples of abstracts to improve your own 

One practical way to improve your abstract would be to find some sample abstracts and learn from them. You can find them in the past conference program pages. The past GSA-winning abstracts could be great samples. BUT be sure to comply with academic integrity (i.e., not to inadvertently plagiarize or violate it). 

Think and continue to think about the ‘JEDI’ potential of your work 

It would be very important to think how your submitted work may have the potential to contribute to AAAL’s collective mission of promoting JEDI. To use my own narrative as an example, when I was doing my MA research on multimodal academic discourse socialization, I was seeing the word ‘multimodal’ just as a neat label that pointed to big theoretical, methodological and empirical gaps that existed in ADS research. But in my first year as a PhD student back in 2020–2021, the doctoral seminar instructor pushed me to think further how the multimodal lens may contribute to the broader social good, rather than merely self-serving me. It eventually led me to read important works of, for example, Pippa Stein (2008), Margaret Early, Maureen Kendrick, and Diane Potts (2015), and Scott Grapin (2019). Although these papers are not necessarily about ADS per se, they really helped me think further about the JEDI potential of my work and eventually to critically problematize the logocentric tendency in ADS research and applied linguistics more broadly. So my advice would be to welcome any critical questions as an invitation to push your thinking, have conversations with your fellow graduate students and advisors, and never cease JEDI-oriented thinking.

Could you offer some advice for students planning to attend the conference for the first time to maximize their conference experience?

We can take advantage of many different opportunities AAAL offers to us. The GSC meetup, coffee breaks, roundtable presentations, and even short 2–3 minutes breaks between paper presentations and before and after plenary/keynote speeches (among many, many, many others!!) are all wonderful opportunities to meet and talk with new and familiar people throughout the conference days. I know it can be a very nervous experience at first, but just try to talk to people and start conversations with them. Just a little courage to speak is actually the key to enriching your/our conference experiences and perhaps your PhD and master’s journey more broadly. See you at AAAL 2024! (Can’t wait to chat with you all! I’m serious!!)

Other work that helped (and continue to help) shape my thinking include

Copyright-released Images: 

[1] Me (left) with my MA and PhD supervisor, Dr. Patsy Duff (AAAL 2023 in Portland)

[2] With my dissertation committee members at my dissertation proposal defence:

Dr. Scott Douglas at UBC Okanagan, Me, Dr. Sandra Zappa-Hollman, Dr. Patsy Duff 

[3] Me presenting GSA-winning paper at AAAL 2022 in Pittsburgh

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