The research poster is an effective type of science communication if designed with consideration for design, readability, and impact. As a standalone artifact hanging on the wall of your lab, the poster delivers a message when you aren’t there to describe your work. At a scientific conference, the poster summarizes your research, leaving you free to interact with your audience. Whatever your science communication goal, a visually appealing, concisely summarized poster is a helpful tool.
What goes on a poster?
The research poster, like other science communication genres, follows a format. For a helpful summary of each section see Purrington (2016), who recommends the poster’s text (excluding acknowledgments and contact information) not exceed 800 words.
- A catchy, short title conveying the interesting issue you studied. [1-2 lines]
- Introduction and motivation for the research. [approximately 200 words]
- Materials and methods briefly describing the experimental setup, research site, procedures, and statistical analyses. Figures and flow charts can illustrate complex designs. [approximately 200 words]
- Results with brief summaries of qualitative and quantitative findings. Rely on figures whenever possible. [approximately 200 words]
- Conclusions and broader impacts highlighting the significance of your findings and relevance to real-world problems and applications. [approximately 200 words]
- References cited following the accepted format of your academic society. [5 citations]
- Acknowledgments and further information identifying funding sources, collaborators, affiliations, and your contact information. [approximately 80 words]
Ensure your poster gets read
In the crowded space of a conference poster session how do you grab attention? Eye-catching design elements and effective delivery of information are essential. Thoughtful choices about layout, font, and use of images are the foundation on which your content is communicated.
Layout: Lead with an eye-catching element. This could be a prominently placed picture of you at work in the field, or a cartoon summarizing your findings. Even a layout that is slightly different than the standard column design attracts attention. Whatever layout you choose, aim for 40% images, 40% open space, and 20% text. Open space invites the reader in while helping them quickly scan your poster for information relevant to their interests. At large conferences with a packed poster session, most scientists will walk past posters with large blocks of text. Other layout tips to consider:
- Use bullets and lists to break up text
- Keep blocks of text to 45-65 characters for readability
- Add columns and boxes for structure
- Present information as it is normally read: left to right or top to bottom
- Number chunks of content for navigation
Font size and type: Use no more than 2-3 fonts for consistency and unity, and ensure text and figures are readable from 5-7 feet away. Suggested font size and type:
- Title – 88 point // Sans-serif (Arial, Verdana, Helvetica)
- Headings – 54point // Sans-serif
- Body text – 44 point // Serif (Times New Roman, Garamond, Palatino)
- Captions – 32 point // Sans-serif
Images: The most impactful part of your poster is the images. This includes photos, diagrams, maps, tables, and graphs. To ensure images are clear, aim for resolutions of at least 150 dpi. Images saved as .png files are generally crisper than other file formats, such as .jpeg. Inserting images, rather than cutting and pasting, helps retain image layout. Some recommendations for photos and graphics files:
- Minimum: 150 dpi, RBG color space, .png or .tif
- Ideal: 300 dpi, CMYK color space, vector image (.eps or .svg)
You have the perfect poster, now you need to present it
Delivering your poster at a conference is an opportunity to gain confidence talking about your research. In many ways, presenting a poster is a better opportunity to practice science communication than the conference talk. As Marcia McNutt, the president of the of the National Academy of Sciences explains, the poster presentation is:
- an opportunity to share your data in a less intimidating format
- training in back-and-forth science communication
- a place to tailor your research story to the interests of the audience
After completing your poster, prepare a 3-4 minute summary for delivery at the poster session. You might also consider making miniature 8 x 11” pdf copies of your poster for researchers who want to do further reading, contact you later, or pass on your work to their colleagues. Pinning copies of the pdf and your business card below your poster invites scientists to explore your work at a later time if you are already engaged in conversation.
The upper-left section of SFS student Brennan Dow’s poster features a picture of the author holding a brown trout. Personal pictures grab attention in a room full of posters.
PESC student Daniel Card produced this effective poster. Despite an nontraditional structure, Daniel’s design effectively tells a story through images with a limited reliance on long chunks of text.
A poster almost entirely composed of pictures is another unconventional yet impactful method for telling your research story.
Source: Philip Dustan
Numbered chunks can be a helpful navigational tool for your audience. Source: https://phdposters.com/gallery.php
A detachable touchscreen is an unusual design element that could incorporate video into your poster.
NYU Libraries How to Create a Research Poster | The NYU libraries guide to poster design with links to software, templates, data visualization tools, and public domain images.
Designing Communications for a Poster Fair | Tips on choosing a color scheme and background colors.
Bioinformatics Zen | The thought process behind an unconventional yet attractive science research poster.
PhD Posters Faculty of 1000 ePosters | Galleries of research posters. A good place to pick up ideas on formatting and layout.
McNutt M. It starts with a poster. Science. 2015;347(6226):1047–1047.
Purrington CB. Designing conference posters. 2016 [accessed 2017 Feb 14].
Contributors: Emily Tyner