A Conference Presentation or A Journal Manuscript: Which One First?

You’ve collected data for your study and got some interesting findings to report. Now what? Should you start to work on a conference presentation or a manuscript for publication? Ideally, you want to do both. But which one first?

Before I give you my suggestions, I’d like to list the pros and cons of each choice:

A. Conference Presentation First


  • It requires much less work to develop an abstract for a conference than a manuscript for a journal. Except for some conferences (e.g., National Communication Association Convention) that require full papers for submission, most conferences only call for abstracts or proposals.Unless you choose to publish the presentation in the conference proceedings (if the conference has such journals), you won’t need to provide a full paper.
  • You disseminate your findings in a timely manner. A conference usually has a quite fixed schedule. After your submission, you don’t have to wait too long to present the results.
  • You reach the target audience directly. Before they read your study findings elsewhere, they learn about the results directly from you. Their comments and questions may trigger more ideas for your future manuscript.


  • After the presentation, you may lose the momentum to expand the abstract to a full paper. It is not unusual to see a presentation is never developed to a journal publication. People simply drop the idea for various reasons, such as being discouraged by audience response (e.g., low attendance, comments on study weaknesses), or losing the original interest as new projects start.
  • It is hard to develop presentation slides without at least a paper draft to refer to. If all you have is the abstract and the data output, it can be quite time-consuming to develop a thoughtful well-written presentation. You will need extra time to review and summarize literature and figure out the implication of your findings.
  • It is much harder to adapt a presentation to a manuscript than vice versa. There is still a long way to go from “abstract + slides + presentation notes” to a full manuscript. You may find the language you’ve used in the slides can be put together as an extended paper outline. You still need to write a whole bunch of new content to develop the paper.


B. Journal Manuscript First


  • You aim at a journal publication from the very beginning. Publications generally carry more weight than conference presentations on our CVs and are more likely to be cited by other researchers.
  • It is quite easy to develop an abstract and a presentation if you already have a manuscript. You may just need to select and tweak some key sentences for slides and use what you’ve written to prepare presentation notes.
  • You have more confidence during your presentation. When writing the manuscript, you have to do a thorough review of relevant literature and have an in-depth understanding of how your findings may be interpreted in certain contexts. All of these allow you to know your slides better and to give more insightful responses to audience questions.


  • You would not be able to clearly estimate when your manuscript will be published. It involves a long process and multiple steps including writing, submission, review/revision, production, etc. There also tends to be a higher chance of being rejected by a journal than by a conference.
  • Some conferences do not accept submissions that are already published. For example, American Public Health Association (APHA) 2017 Annual Conference rule states “Abstracts submitted and accepted for the APHA Annual Meeting may not be presented at any other meeting or published prior to Mon. Nov. 6, 2017.”

Here is my preference: Start with a manuscript first, but don’t wait until it is published. If there is a good presentation opportunity, submit your abstract. While waiting for the abstract notification, continue working on the manuscript until it is fully developed. In this way, you will not only have a full manuscript ready for journal submission, but also the material for developing your conference presentation or poster.

Of course, if there is a great conference right around the corner, it totally makes sense to focus on abstract submission first so you won’t miss the deadline. But the important thing is after you click the abstract submission button, you should work on the manuscript. Writing a manuscript needs passion and perseverance. If you drop it, it is difficult to regain the energy and enthusiasm.


a conference presentation or a journal manuscript