How to turn a conference paper into a journal article: 5 top tips 

Understanding how to turn a conference paper into a journal article is a skill that’s worth developing for any academic. Conference papers are a fantastic opportunity to share your research with peers and gather feedback to help you improve your work. But once a conference paper has been presented, it doesn’t have to be the end of that piece of writing.  

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Conference paper publication is rare, so it’s unlikely your conference paper will be published as it is. But it can still form the foundation on which a journal article can be built. In this blog, we’re going to look at how to develop your conference paper and turn it into a brilliant journal article.  

What’s the difference between a conference paper and a journal article?

There are a few key differences between conference papers and journal articles, which help to explain why it’s necessary to do further work before you can submit to a journal.  

  • Audience

    A conference paper is written with a specific audience in mind which may not be exactly the audience targeted by a journal. For example, you could have a large conference with an interdisciplinary audience and a journal with a much more specific audience. Or vice versa. While there could be some overlap between audiences, it’s vital that a journal article is written with the journal’s audience in mind. 

  • Work in progress vs. completed work

    Many academics use conference papers as a way to get input into research that’s still in progress. The feedback and insight gained from the presentation and subsequent question and answer session can help to give direction to ongoing work. In contrast, journal articles should be written when definite conclusions are reached in a piece of research.

  • Language and tone

    As conference papers are written to be verbally presented, the language and tone of the writing can often be different from that demanded by a journal. Journals have varying requirements regarding writing style which will almost always entail rewriting or rephrasing work in an existing conference paper. 

  • Clarity of all arguments

    The clarity of arguments in a conference paper isn’t a deal breaker. After all, if the arguments aren’t immediately clear to the conference audience, the presenter can clarify them in the question and answer session after the presentation. However, this isn’t possible for a journal article. It’s also worth considering that when presenting a conference paper, you can focus on certain parts of the paper. But this isn’t the case with journal articles, where all sections should be equally developed. 

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5 tips to turn your conference paper into a journal article

So if you’ve presented a conference paper, what should you do to turn it into a journal article? Here are some top tips, with insights from Charlie Berry, whose prize-winning essay – based on a conference paper – was published in The London Journal in 2017

1. Consider the requirements of the journal you want to publish in

It’s vital to spend time choosing the right journal for your research and ensuring you understand its requirements before you start writing. Following the submission guidelines is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your article is considered by the editors. There are lots of great tips on how to choose the right journal in our Choosing a journal eBook

2. Use the feedback you’ve received

The feedback you receive when you present your conference paper can give you some great insights into where you need to develop your research, arguments, and conclusions. 

“When I presented my paper, I had quite a few helpful questions from the audience and my fellow panelists,” explained Charlie Berry. “These highlighted areas where I could improve the piece. Some of the most helpful were where people didn’t quite understand something in my original paper. This let me know where I needed to add more clarification.” 

Remember, you don’t have to include and act on all feedback. You know your research best, so use your judgment to decide what will improve your work. 

3. Develop your research and arguments 

If your research is still in progress, it’s vital that you further develop it and form definite conclusions before writing a journal article. Or perhaps your conference paper only covered one area of your research and you’ll need to draw on other aspects of your work to form your arguments for an article. 

“My conference paper focused on my research using one particular document, the record of a late medieval neighborhood court,” explained Charlie Berry. “When writing my article, I incorporated other parts of my research which gave a much deeper sense of the historical context of that document. I used my social network analysis of local people to explore the careers and connections of men who served as jurors in the court. In an article, you have more space to use and explain any use of innovative methodologies.” 

4. Consider how your research relates to other work in your field 

Journal editors will expect you to have read broadly on the subject of your research and will want you to be able to link your work to that of those in your field. 

“Your article can explain the importance of your research for your field in much more depth than a conference paper,” said Charlie Berry. “Think about the sort of secondary literature the readers of the journal will be familiar with. How does your work fit with or challenge it? If you’ve already written a literature review for your thesis, read it over and think about which relevant parts you could incorporate into your article.” 

5. Start with a blank page

When you start writing, it may be tempting to try to develop your original conference paper and add bits to it to turn it into an article. But this can actually hamper your progress because the way you’ve written the conference paper may not work for the style of the journal or the arguments you’re now trying to make. 

Instead, start with a blank document and use our Writing your paper free guide to guide you through the process step-by-step. You can then bring in relevant parts of your conference paper and further develop them as you go. 

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Where to next?

If you’ve found these tips helpful make sure you look at:

  • Publishing an article free guide –  a series of guides that walk you through the process of publishing your article, from choosing a journal to promoting your published research. 

  • Our Insights newsletter – the latest news, tips and resources delivered straight to your inbox. 

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