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Writing a Good Proposal

As you may know, the call for proposals for PyCon 2012 is open, and we're waiting for you to submit your best talk, tutorial, and poster ideas at If you haven't submitted yet, don't worry, you have 42 days and we'll give you some tips along the way. If you already submitted, take a chance to fine tune your proposal with some tips on each section of the proposal form.


The first and sometimes last thing your prospective audience will see is the title. With PyCon being a multi-track conference, no matter what kind of proposal you're writing, you're going to be up against others when it comes time for the big show. Tutorials usually run two at a time, talks run five at a time, and posters run all at once. If you want to attract attendees, you'll need to hook them with a solid title.


With this year's call for proposals being a unified format, we're using a unified proposal page for all types. Each type occurs in a different setting and has different attributes, so be sure to submit the right kind of proposal.

  • Tutorial

    Tutorials open up the conference on Wednesday March 7, 2012 with a two day series of classroom-style education. Presenters have three hours to teach 20-60 students on their topic, and receive compensation for their work. Most tutorials include interactive examples, relevant source code, and printed course materials.

  • Talk

    Talks are the main feature of PyCon and start on Friday March 9, 2012 and run through Sunday. In 2011, we had 95 talks spread over the three days, with five talks running at the same time. Durations run either 30 or 45 minutes, and we've brought back the "extreme" track.

  • Panel

    Panels are multi-speaker talks on a certain topic. In the past we've had panels on IDEs, Python implementations, educational use, and many more. If you're planning a panel, make sure you have other speakers on board, as you'll want to add their speaker profile at the end.

  • Poster

    Posters are a great way to show your latest project, organization, or anything you want to display to the community. You get a 4'x4' space to show your work, and many past presentations have also included interactive demos. It's a great event to be a part of, and allows for a more intimate experience with attendees over a traditional talk.


The category drop down helps the organizers group submissions by topic both for evaluation and scheduling, so be sure to identify your proposal as accurately as possible. We think the selections represent the typical range of submissions we've seen in the past, but we know we haven't caught everything. If you must, use the "other" selection.

As you can see, you only get one choice, so choose wisely. If your talk is about A web framework with B database using C distributed framework to talk to D cloud provider, you've got some thinking to do. Pick the slot which you feel your proposal fits in the best -- it'll help your chances as a submitter, and it'll help your audience should you be selected.


Like the past PyCon schedules we've put together, 2012 is likely to provide quite the exercise in scheduling on the attendee side. Five options at any given time on five topics by five speakers. It's a lot to choose from, and our usual range of first timers to 20 year vets want a peek into what level you'll be speaking at.

You don't want a beginner expecting a beginner talk and leaving your experienced talk without understanding a thing, do you? For every-one's sake, try to be as accurate as possible in your assessment of the target audience. The organizers will likely use it to ensure the proposed talk matches the level. The attendees will use it to figure out if they want to attend or not.


Want to skip the appetizer and dig right into the main course? Extreme talks skip the introductory parts of a presentation and get right to the topic at hand. If you're looking to pack a punch with your talk, going the extreme route might be for you. For more details, see


At PyCon 2011 we had room for 95 talks, 20 of which were of the 45 minute variety, leaving the remaining 75 talks to be 30 minutes in length. We try to be accommodating to duration requests, but keep in mind that we only have a limited amount of extended time slots. If you can fill a 45 minute slot, by all means, request it and we'll see what we can do.


The description is your chance to reel in a prospective attendee that your talk is for them. Keep it short and sweet -- you only get 400 words and they'll be printed in the conference program, featured on the website, and likely used for video uploads.

A good description leads the reader right into their seat without asking for it. Introduce your topic, share a few important pieces of information, and sell your conclusion. A good title paired with a good description leaves no doubt in an attendee's mind that your talk is the one they want to see.


The abstract is your way to show us what exactly you're working with. There's no limit on the content here, and you're able to use Markdown to jazz it up. Add as much or as little detail as you feel you need in order for the program committee to judge your talk on. Pro tip: we're judging your talk exactly as you have submitted it. We can't assume you will cover anything you haven't submitted. In fact, we try to make as few assumptions as possible, so try to be thorough.

We've seen several abstract formats, with one of the more popular being an outline-style. Previous submitters have broken down into two or three level deep outlines, sometimes including time estimates on how long each section will take. The more conversational paragraph-style has also been popular, summarizing the submitter's story similar to a blog post.

No matter how you write your abstract, know that it's your canvas to show us that you have a topic that PyCon attendees and the worldwide online audience want to see. We want to put together the best conference available, so please join in helping us to do that.


For more details, check out the call for proposals and the speaker pages on our site. Proposals are due in 42 days, so get to work. We're looking forward to receiving your submissions and working with you to tweak them and create the best conference ever.


Just to be certain, in the proposal form the abstract is said to be limited to 400 characters, and this post says 400 words. So which one is right? It makes a small difference ;).
Brian Curtin said…
@Félix-Antoine -- thanks for bringing that up! It was a mental lapse on my part: 400 characters is correct, I'll update the post.
Eric Snow said…
Just to be clear, the character limit applies to the Description section and not the Abstract section. The abstract can be as long as you want, if I understood correctly.

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This was an interesting talk by Michelle Levesque. She wanted to write a Python webapp and went to get one for her project. Surely, there is one available.

Actually... there isn't one. Kinda too bad. There are about 40 instead. Then she faced the dilemma of "which to choose?" And that's when she started the "web-off". Have a big comparison among some of the big players to see what works best.

The talk briefly described four of the seven approaches that she is looking at. She has more details on the results so far, along with a blog of results as she goes.

Very interesting talk. Personally, I don't use any of those as they generally mix the HTML output and the Python code too much.