Designing Scientific Posters

It can be daunting to try and fit months, sometimes years worth of your research onto a piece of posterboard. How do you present all the relevant information without losing the structure of your work? What can you do to grab people’s attention, hold their interest and make sure that your point is presented clearly and informatively?

A good poster presents work in a coherent fashion to people who are walking up and down a hallway or through an exhibit. It needs to have a minimum amount of text supported by strong visuals. In a busy environment many people will not even stop to read most things so the poster must grab the attention visually.

This guide will give you some basic ideas, tips and dos and don’ts about how to design an effective poster while maintaining the integrity of your research.

Title

You’ve probably walked through a bookstore or down the aisle of a supermarket and been convinced to buy something just by its title. Titles are the most important device to orient a viewer, presenting a summary or focus of your research in just a few words.

  • do: make the title the most prominent feature on your poster. Place it at the top or left justified, just like you would a piece of correspondence.
  • do: observe proper grammatical rules when creating a title. That means capitalizing appropriate words and making small words lower case. This will also help you separate the important details of your title.
  • do: try and make your title a phrase. Sentences can be fine too, but they tend to be longer and more complex. You are looking for something that is quick, punchy and attention grabbing.
  • don’t: forget to put your name and any other co-author’s names as well as any relevant citations beneath the title.
  • don’t: capitalize the entire title. Writing in ALL CAPS is very distracting and can make it seem as if you are yelling.

Content

After spending eight months carefully writing up an article that has been accepted to a journal, some people simply paste their articles to a poster and call it a day, but that assures that no one will read it. What you want to do is think of your now titled poster as a short story or even the abstract to your work with some key visuals thrown in.

There are two key components to your poster’s content. The first is uncomplicated, easy to read visual displays of your data. These are going to do the hard work of getting people’s attention and presenting your findings without using words. The other is small blocks of text to support your data. These will be guided by headlines, much the same way chapters in a book work.

  • do: place the conclusions first, in the upper lefthand corner. Just the same as the abstract in your article, giving the viewer all the necessary information first can make all the difference.
  • do: arrange your poster in an easy to follow order. Break it up into columns or rows. If you want to make it even easier, number each section. Avoid scattering the information around without structure.
  • do: make the font big enough. You don’t want people leaning in and squinting to try and figure out what you’ve written.
  • do: remember to put contact info and any other important personal information at the very end.
  • don’t: go overboard with colors or visuals. The poster is supposed to present key information, not look like a Jackson Pollack painting. Tone down primary colors, be aware of contrast and make sure the visuals are not blurry. Consider using .png rather than .jpg images.
  • don’t: justify your text. That can make reading a difficult chore and people will simply give up. Leave that to professional typesetters.
  • don’t: forget to edit your work. Some mistakes may be small enough to miss, but they are certainly big enough to cause embarrassment.

Further Resources