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The Features You Want in an Abstract Submission Management System

The Features You Want in an Abstract Submission Management System

In some ways, abstract submission is like the perfect storm. If the following situation sounds familiar, don’t worry; you’re not alone.

You sound the clarion call for proposals and patiently await the deluge. Wave after wave of PDF files (and quite a few attachments that didn’t follow the PDF expectations) start to flood your inbox. Presenter questions and requests for revisions blow to-and-fro. The spreadsheets need a constant drip of updates as you blast out friendly reminders to help busy reviewers stay on schedule for final approvals.

With a few lightning-quick last-minute updates, the approved abstracts are finalized—at last. You rain out acceptance notifications and prepare for the sticky-note-flurry of session and agenda building.

It’s a common, yet exhausting, experience. But an excellent abstract management system can make a world of difference. When we built OpenWater, we knew that it was possible to solve the traditionally disjointed, inefficient process of collecting and reviewing abstracts. We wanted to create order from chaos.

Still, choosing the right platform for your organization can be tricky. It’s got to fit with the format and scope of what you do. As you compare abstract submission software, we recommend keeping the following features at the top of your wishlist:


Table of Contents:

1) It Can Be Customized Into the Perfect Fit

2) It Saves You Time and Makes Life Easier

3) It Handles Every Step, From Start to Finish

Learn More—Book a Demo


1) It Can Be Customized Into the Perfect Fit

A system worth your investment will be built for you. It should meet your abstract management process wherever you’re at in terms of conference size, information gathering needs, and industry-specific features. Look for qualities like these:

Fully Customizable Submission Form

The abstract collection form is the front gate. Irrelevant fields can turn interested presenters away by overcomplicating the process. On the other hand, if you don’t collect enough details at the door, you’ll be chasing authors down later. Your particular topic or industry might require special characters or certain kinds of file uploads. 

A fully customizable abstract submission form can handle all of this with:

  • Configurable Submission Periods: You can set them and change them at any time, as necessary. Deadline extension? No problem.
  • Any Combination of Fields or Inputs: Most forms will want first and last names, contact info, and an abstract, but you might want more. A versatile abstract submission platform can configure custom fields where speakers can put their affiliations, titles, salutations, select their topic from a radial list, answer open-ended questions, and more.
  • Large File Uploads: You might want to allow presenters to upload a large file, like a filmed presentation or high-res drawing. Graphical and video abstracts are on the rise as technology makes it easier to manage and share.
  • Field Validation Options: Required fields can ensure that you get the info you need the first time around by alerting your proposers about missing information before they submit.
  • Custom Eligibility Rules: It’s also possible to filter out unqualified abstracts by attaching eligibility rules to your form (for example, length requirements or file types). These might only allow submissions when inputs match your requirements, or you can set them up so all submissions are accepted. If you go for the latter option, make sure you also set up your system to automatically disapprove ineligible submissions. 

Flexible Review Process

If you can write the test yourself, you know you’ll be measuring what you want to measure. Every review process (and round of review) has unique needs. A quality abstract review system can adjust to the scope and style of your needs with features like:

  • Adjustable Scoring Criteria: Why let the platform dictate your rules for scoring when there are options that let you set your own? Pick which fields are scorable, select the method you’ll use to tabulate scores (points, weighted, ranking, etc.), and place clear written instructions to guide your reviewers.
  • Custom Rubrics: These give you the power to use a different set of evaluation criteria for each meeting, conference, or event you organize, all with the same software.
  • Unlimited Rounds of Review: For a small event, one round might be enough. If you’ve got hundreds of sessions and many thousands of attendees, however, it helps when you have the freedom to set up as many rounds of review as you need—each with custom criteria.
  • Blind and Non-Blind Fields: Reviewers don’t necessarily need to see everything. Mark which fields you want to be invisible to your team of reviewers to save them time and prevent accidental biases.
  • Autoscoring: Custom scoring can be automated, too (just like eligibility rules on the abstract submission form). Assign automatic points with rules you predefine upfront and save your reviewers for the more complex aspects of evaluation.

Matches the “Look-and-Feel” of Your Brand

Many years ago—before OpenWater—we worked on custom web development projects for associations and nonprofits in the Washington, DC area. We’ve carried those aesthetic sensibilities into our work on OpenWater’s website integrations; because if the abstract submission system is truly a perfect fit, it should look like one.

The Benefits of a Fully Integrated Abstract Submission System

Presenters, reviewers, and attendees will all appreciate a cohesive conference website that looks professional and on-brand from top to bottom. Your abstract submission system should fully integrate with your website, and include features like:

  • Your Color Palette: Matching colors is a straightforward design choice, but it makes a big difference.
  • Logos and Banners: These branding opportunities leave no question that the integrated platform is still part of your company and your website.
  • Recreate Headers and Navigation: Your existing website has a certain feel and flow. A well-integrated abstract submission system can reduce visual friction for users by seamlessly matching this structure.
  • Custom Widgets: This is the extra mile. The premium themes in OpenWater, for example, include custom-built widgets with sophisticated functions that line up with your brand’s aesthetic—accordion-style nested FAQs, clickable reviewer galleries with pop-up bios, and more.

2) It Saves You Time and Makes Life Easier

As you know, managing conference abstracts is a lot of work. There’s a lot of data coming in, and somehow it’s got to get thoughtfully evaluated, distilled for quality, and puzzle-pieced together into a cohesive agenda. What’s more, your reviewers are most likely not doing this as their day job—they’ll have other priorities elbowing for their limited attention. 

Your abstract management system can take a lot of the load off your shoulders and help you bypass hours of manual record-keeping. It won’t make your coffee to order; but with the right features, it can still give you more time and less stress.

Quick to Learn, Easy to Use

A good platform sinks or swims by its user-friendly interface. Your planning staff, presenters, and reviewers all need to interact with it—an intuitive user experience that doesn’t take a single line of code or a computer programmer to set up is nothing less than essential.

Reusable Templates


It saves countless time for your annual abstract submission kickoff when you can pick up exactly where you left off last year. Convenient program templates can get your abstract submission system set up faster by saving your custom build (submission form, review process—the works) and cloning it every time the annual meeting comes around. 

If you manage a few different events each year, you could even save a series of templates. Then you’re ready to go no matter which event is up next.

Accessible From the Cloud

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is already the new standard for professional computer applications. And no wonder—with cloud accessibility, you can continue working from any device, anywhere, and skip the hassle of downloading or updating local installs.

Mobile-Friendly Design


Mobile has overtaken other formats as the dominant way we spend our virtual time. Your users will want the ability to read about, work on, submit, and review abstracts on the go. OpenWater was made with multi-device responsiveness in mind, and comes equipped with:

  • A sleek mobile website for attendees, presenters, and reviewers
  • Apps (for iPhone and Android) that let attendees download your final agenda in advance

Single Sign-On


It’s hard to understate the convenience of using pre-existing credentials to log into a new application or service. Your abstract submission system is no different. We’ve all got too many passwords and usernames and pin codes to remember already in our information-age lives. 

Look for a system that seamlessly integrates itself into your website and lets you access everything you need in one place, through a familiar login like your Google account.

The Software Integrations You Need

Many systems can touch event management for a conference. Are you using a CRM, AMS, LMS, or marketing automation platform? Your abstract submission system should synchronize with all of them so that you never need to duplicate your efforts or log into multiple systems at the same time. You’ll want:

  • Information lookups
  • Bidirectional synchronization between systems
  • Secure payment gateways
  • Single sign ons
  • Custom SQL database compatibility


For example, OpenWater integrates with a vast number of external APIs, including mainstream systems like Salesforce, Personify, PayPal, Netforum, iMIS, HubSpot, and much more. We even do client-specific custom integrations and support mobile conference apps. Our team has worked hard to ensure 100% uptime for our system so that every integration with your conference planning process stays smooth.

Built-In, Automated Communication


It’s easier to keep track of threads of questions and conversations when your abstract management software has built-in email functionality. Exchange messages with individual presenters or reviewers without switching channels. From right within the abstract submission system, you’ll be able to blast out invitations, reminders, notifications, confirmations, and anything else to targeted email lists.

3) It Handles Every Step, From Start to Finish

If you need a different platform to handle each step—abstract collection, review, and scheduling—then your submission management process will be far from streamlined. Learning each platform, integrating or cross-referencing data, and jumping between logins takes valuable time. Instead, go for an end-to-end abstract management platform that handles everything:

Call For Abstracts, Proposals, or Papers

Your first step is to let folks know that abstract submissions are open. With email and CRM integration, you can send out the call for abstracts right from the abstract submission software.

Abstract Collection

A robust, adaptable form-builder is a must. It makes a big difference if your system sweats the details, too. This way, your system will have the ability to support scientific characters, collect and manage supplementary materials, set eligibility rules, and allow applicants and authors to log in later to edit their abstract submission without your help. That email function comes in handy too, so you can send automated reminders for final paper submissions and keep everyone on track.

Abstract Review Process


If you’ve been piecing together abstract collection data with spreadsheets, you’ll know the old way isn’t fancy but will do in a pinch. Abstract review, however, is something Excel can’t do. There’s no replacement for a system that can set up multiple rounds of review with unique scoring criteria. OpenWater’s administrative portal lets your reviewers access abstract submissions online, anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

Session and Schedule Building

Agenda creation doesn’t need to be a pain. The traditional process involves whiteboards, spreadsheets, sticky notes, and a lot of mixing and matching. For a large conference, though, this might call to mind an overwhelming game of pin the tail on the donkey.

The best abstract management systems let you group approved abstracts into sessions, then feed them directly into a schedule builder. OpenWater’s agenda creation system makes everything easy. It’s got:

  • Easy session creation—can even auto-add related abstracts
  • A drag-and-drop online schedule builder
  • Automated room and session IDs
  • Conflict checking with visual alerts

Creation of Abstract Booklets & Virtual Agendas

You’re running a whole event—not just collecting abstracts. It helps when your abstract submission system can contribute to the broader event with custom-printed abstract booklets (useful both for physical review and as conference handouts).

OpenWater’s system goes even further, with several event management integrations, such as the ability to host secure payment gateways for attendee registration or to feed your agenda to conference mobile apps.

User Analytics & Reports

Next year’s conference will improve upon lessons learned this year. Your abstract submission system can add valuable insights if it tracks the behavior of its users—the same way some associations do with live attendees at their meetings.

OpenWater exports flexible reports on gathered data into all standard formats (Excel, CSV, Text files) so you can monitor presenter and reviewer progress in real-time, identify dropoff points, and improve the process for next time.

Learn More—Book a Demo

An abstract submission system gathers your abstracts, sure, but a great one can do so much more. We built OpenWater to change the game. It was important to us that our system be flexible, easy to use, and provide a beginning-to-end solution to abstract management. If you’re interested in learning more, reach out and book a demo—we’d be happy to show you the ropes.

The Benefits of a Fully Integrated Abstract Submission System

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