Posters

One kind of academic writing that involves far more visual consideration than traditional articles is the poster display. Along with the orally delivered conference paper, the poster display is a common way of presenting research results at conferences.

In some respects, writing a poster text resembles article writing; many posters are presented according to an Introduction - Method - Results - Discussion structure. Of these, the Introduction and Results sections are generally the most important ones for the poster presentation. The poster writer thus faces the same challenges as the article writer in some respects:

  • The title needs to be attractive
  • The text structure must be logical
  • The argument has to be convincing

However, there are a few important differences between article texts and poster texts.

A poster is not an article

Whereas paper presentations demand a certain command of oral presentation technique, the requirements placed on poster presentations include visual aspects of the scientific results that are to be presented, as well as good writing skills.

First and foremost, the poster must grab the reader's attention. At large conferences, there may be hundreds of posters exhibited in large rooms, and a poorly presented poster will not receive much attention. Therefore, poster texts need to be short and to the point, and visual material must be well chosen and presented in order to enhance the argument and results communicated in the poster.

Poster design

Poster texts must be clear and short, and clarity is central for the layout and overall design too. Although there are different ways of presenting scientific results graphically and although contents and taste will, of course, determine the design of a poster to some extent, there are some general design issues that should be taken into consideration.

The layout must be intuitive to the reader

The progression of the material presented in the poster must be clear; often poster texts are arranged either from left to right or from top to bottom. Different sections of the poster can be numbered or the reader can be guided by arrows from one section to the next (see Connor (no date) and Briscoe (1996) for examples).

The text must be big enough and easy to read

The title and overall design must be clear to the reader at a distance of 10-15 feet (Connor), i.e. approximately 3-4.5 meters. The text sections must also have an appropriate font size. 

The title should not be too long or complex, and all authors' names and affiliation(s) must be clearly stated on the poster, preferably together with email addresses.

An uncluttered design is easier to read

Too many colours and patterns will distract the reader, as will too many pieces of separate text. An easy-to-read typeface should be chosen, and it should be remembered that a text in only capital letters is difficult to read.

Balance between text and illustrations

As Briscoe (1996) states, "Figures are more impressive than text on a poster" (p. 141). To write a poster is not to display a number of text pages but to extract vital and interesting results and display them in an enticing manner. The texts should be kept brief and to the point. It is better to write brief statements than long descriptive or argumentative texts.

A graphic display is easier to read than tables (Connor), so if possible, it is wise to present research results in graphs rather than in tables.

Example: Poster design and font size (click to expand/contract)

Hansen (1991) and Briscoe (1996) provide examples of poster layout and the visual effect of different type fonts and font size:

Briscoe, M.H. (1996). Preparing scientific illustrations: A guide to better posters, presentations, and publications. New York: Springer. [Google Books] [Lovisa entry]

Hansen, W. (1991). Suggestions to authors of the reports of the United States Geological Survey. Washington: Government Printing Office. [Lovisa entry]


How to make a poster

Our advice below focuses on aspects of poster production that are mainly connected with writing.

Check guidelines

Start by reviewing the guidelines provided by the conference organisers.

Also consider what kind of conference and poster session you are writing for. Is it a large conference covering several specialisations within your discipline or can you expect your audience to be familiar with your particular field?

Find your focus

Similarly to paper or article writing, it is necessary to establish a focus for the poster. What have you discovered? Have you developed a new method? Can you present new data of some kind? Although there may be room for some brief background information, the main focus of the poster must be on the new knowledge that you wish to share. With the limited space available, it is important to focus the presentation and not try to say too many things, nor to say too much about your topic.

Planning

Briscoe (1996, p. 135) suggests that the poster writer starts by making a simple sketch of the planned poster. In that sketch, one section should be set aside for the title of the presentation together with names, affiliation and email addresses of all presenters and one for references and acknowledgements. What remains is the area that you have at your disposal for your presentation.

It is often possible to take the abstract that was submitted to the conference as a starting point for the poster. As abstracts tend to be structured in a way similar to the IMRD article design, brief expansions of what was presented in the abstract may work as poster texts. What needs to be added is, of course, details of the results that you wish to present. Depending on field and approach, results will be displayed in writing only or in a more graphic format.

Designing and revising

Posters are often made with Powerpoint. The LU graphic profile regarding fonts, etc. should be followed. Check from a distance to make sure that the text and the illustrations are accessible and that your argument is clear to the reader. It is wise to ask a colleague to give feedback on the poster and also to have someone proofread the texts.

Making a poster requires time, not only for the writing but also for production or reproduction of illustrations, etc. and for the printing of the poster.

Advice: Conveying your message effectively (click to expand/contract)

Scholars presenting papers at conferences usually have 15-30 minutes at their disposal. In poster sessions, it is necessary to grab visitors' attention immediately - if the poster does not evoke an interest no one will stop to read the text.

Block (1996) presents a list of "dos and don'ts" in poster making. One of his points concerns the importance of reaching out:

DON'T ever expect anyone to spend more than 3-5 min (tops!) at your poster. If you can't clearly convey your message pictorially in less time than this, chances are you haven't done the job properly.

DO get right to the heart of the matter, and remember the all-important KISS Principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid! In clear, jargon-free terms, your poster must explain 1) the scientific problem in mind (what's the question?), 2) its significance (why should we care?), 3) how your particular experiment addresses the problem (what's your strategy?), 4) the experiments performed (what did you actually do?), 5) the results obtained (what did you actually find?), 6) the conclusions (what do you think it all means?), and, optionally, 7) caveats (any reservations?) and/or 8) future prospects (where do you go from here?). Be brief, and always stay on point. (p. 3528)


Presenting a poster

At many conferences, there are both oral presentations (often referred to as 'papers') and poster presentations. Sometimes conference papers are also presented as posters, but more often, conferences offer two separate options for presentation.

Poster presentations can be accompanied by short poster talks during the part of the conference often referred to as poster sessions. 

It is wise to bring a set of A4-size handouts of the poster text. Make sure that all the text, including contact information, is clearly visible on the handout.

Travelling with a poster

A poster with chipped corners or smudged text does not make a good presentation. As posters are large, certain precautions have to be taken. Full-sized posters can be rolled up in a tube, for instance.