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Looking for interesting conferences I stumbled upon some remarks that there were presented papers and distributed papers at a conference session. This distinction was new to me, so I did some web searches: It turns out that this is pretty common among the International Sociological Association and the European Sociological Association. According to one of their Conference FAQs a "distributed paper is a written paper which the author(s) brings along to the session to distribute to those attending" in contrast to an actually presented paper.

Of course, it is an individual cost–benefit analysis whether that kind of a conference contribution is worth the effort (and fees), but it is hard to do the math withouth any experiences what I could expect from such a conference contribution.

Do you have experience with this format? I am especially interested in:

  • What kind of feedback (quantity and quality) can I expect from a distributed paper?
  • In comparison to a poster or a normal presentation, what could be advantages of a distributed paper for the "distributor"?
  • Do you have suggestions how I could optimize a "distributed paper" to get better feedback (or feedback at all)?
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    One comment: These things do exist (besides really good reasons) as well for people who are not allowed by their grant conditions to attend a conference without participation, because distributed papers are officially a form of active participation. – yo' Dec 1 '13 at 22:38
  • Distributed paper = soft rejection (plus smart way of collecting some extra conference fees) – non-numeric_argument Dec 2 '13 at 13:03
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I was at the European Sociological Association conference this year and only in one session did I encounter a distributed paper. The paper was duly given out at the start of the regular session and the (experienced) chair asked the author without any warning to present it. Although the author hadn't specifically prepared a presentation for his distributed paper, he did talk us through the paper and the audience asked a couple of questions based on superficially skim-reading it.

To answer your specific queries, the level of feedback would probably depend on how much time the Chair decided to give your paper. You might be able to negotiate this with the chair by email or in person just before the session, especially if the session is generously timed or somebody has dropped out, both of which are quite common at the ESA. It might even be possible to give a short Powerpoint presentation based on the paper as well. The advantage of a distributed paper could be that your paper ends up in people's hands and they might read it if they suffer a bad talk later on that day.

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