Academic conferences can be great places for you to contribute to ongoing work in a field and learn from the work of others.1
Hopefully, some of what you learn will prove particularly enlightening for your own work. In that case, you’ll want to appropriately acknowledge the presenters from whom you learned so much.
There are, however, both ethical and technical considerations you need to address before appealing to conference presentations in your research.
Different presenters have different views of how appropriate it is for you to cite their conference presentations. Some will be perfectly fine with it. Others will be on the opposite end of the spectrum.
For instance, the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)’s webpage for annual meeting seminar papers and websites reads, in part,
Because these papers represent works in progress, they should not be quoted or otherwise cited without permission from the author.2
Especially given this variety of opinion, before you cite a conference paper,
- Look for a version of the research that the author has subsequently published. This published version will represent a more final state of the author’s views on the topic. So, it will be a better source in any case. And by publishing the work, the author is explicitly inviting others to read and interact with it on a broader scale. So, you needn’t worry about whether it’s appropriate to cite that published work.
- Look for other published work you could cite to document the same point as you heard expressed in the conference presentation. Or if you aren’t able to find either of these,
- Reach out to the author to ask permission to cite the conference presentation. Until and unless you receive explicit permission to cite the presentation, however, you should carefully avoid both citing and (of course) plagiarizing from it.
If the author gives you permission to cite the conference presentation, it’s then up to you to cite it properly. That involves knowing what your style manual requires and how to produce what it requires if you’re using a reference manager like Zotero, which can prove helpful in a number of ways.
What SBL Style Wants
For instance, if you use SBL style, citations of a conference paper should look as follows
31. Susan Niditch, “Oral Culture and Written Documents” (paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the New England Region of the SBL, Worcester, MA, 25 March 1994), 13–17.
35. Niditch, “Oral Culture,” 14.3
Then, your bibliography should show an entry like
Niditch, Susan. “Oral Culture and Written Documents.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the New England Region of the SBL. Worcester, MA, 25 March 1994.4
How to Use Zotero to Produce What SBL Style Wants
If you use Zotero, installing the SBL style from the style repository will mean Zotero automatically keeps the style up to date for you.
(If you haven’t already installed the style from the repository, click here to drop in your email. And I’ll send you the direct link to the repository’s entry for this style, along with several others you might find useful.)
Zotero has a “Conference Paper” item type, but that’s designed to be used for a conference paper that’s been published in a collected volume of conference proceedings.5
So, with the SBL style installed in Zotero, you’ll use the “Presentation” item type. Then, for that item, you’ll need to complete the following fields as described below:
- “Title” with the title of the paper,
- “Presenter” with the name of the presenter, adding additional presenters with the plus button as needed,
- “Type” with the word “paper” or another appropriate descriptive term for the presentation,
- “Date” with the date for the presentation,
- “Place” with the location of the conference,
- “Meeting Name” with the name of the conference, and
- “Short Title” with a short title for the paper.
Conference papers aren’t always the easiest sources to cite, either in terms of ensuring it’s okay to cite them or, if it is, in composing the citations themselves. And fully published work will generally make stronger contributions to your argument, not least due to having gone through more formal peer review. But if you find yourself able and needing to cite a conference paper, Zotero can certainly streamline the process of documenting your interaction with that paper.
Society of Biblical Literature, SBL Handbook of Style, §6.3.8. ↩