To read the paper in advance of the conference and attempt to identify strengths, weaknesses, questions, and areas for further development.
To attempt to draw some connections and to identify commonalities among the papers presented in a session.
To try to find a way for presenters to engage with each other about their papers, no matter how diverse the topics.
To mentor, guide, and assist in the development of other scholars and ideas.
Not to show how smart you are by making derisive or nonconstructive critical comments about a presenter's work.
To respond to papers from your own base of knowledge. It is not necessary to go out and do extra research to serve as a discussant. Discussants are selected because of their general knowledge and awareness. You should use and acknowledge your own expertise rather than trying to be an authority on all of the papers you discuss.
To ask questions as part of a discussion. Allow the discussion to be a way for the presenter to show off his or her knowledge and understanding of the research.
To provide a written copy of comments to the presenters. This is not required, but presenters will term any discussant who does so a "saint."
Suggestions for Presenters Working with Discussants:
This should be obvious, but remember that the discussant's comments are about the specific paper presented, not about the entire body of your work, or about you as a person.
Usually, your paper will be one of several presented in a session. Remember that respondents are generally selected for their ability to comment on all the papers presented within a panel, so they are not likely to have in-depth knowledge of your topic.
Be prepared to answer questions that respondents raise about your paper; questions might range from methodology to sources.
Do not get into an argument with the discussant. Respond to critique graciously, pointing out your view or making your case. This is not the time to become defensive and argumentative.
Remember that the respondent is probably trying to help you refine your ideas, not to make you or your ideas look dumb.
Be sure to provide a copy of the paper to the discussant in plenty of time for him/her to read it and craft a thought-out response. Comments that emerge from a careful reading of your paper are more helpful to you than those written in haste.
Give your email address or telephone number to respondent so that he or she can contact you with questions before the conference. Most discussants will choose not to contact you in advance, but rather at the session.
These tips were gathered from responses to a survey of recent CGU Ph.D.s in their first faculty positions. Thanks to Chris Golde (University of Wisconsin), Christopher Morphew (Iowa State University), and Lisa Wolfe (University of Kansas) for their input.