How to create an academic research conference poster
Academic posters are widely used within the research community to quickly and clearly provide a visual explanation of research methodology and findings to the viewer.
If you are a working researcher, senior academic, or PhD student at the start of your career, chances are you’ll attend numerous conferences over the course of your working life: hundreds of people wandering around halls look at a range of different large-scale research presentations in poster form.
Why create a poster?
When starting to think about creating a poster for your next academic meeting, it’s important to think about why you are doing this. Why consider making a conference poster? Why is this good for you? Conference posters are a chance to initiate a conversation with colleagues at often very crowded meetings: these presentations are therefore a good chance to engage with people and make sure that you are remembered. Perhaps you have conference posters pinned up around your department that colleagues have presented at different times? Perhaps there are some that you think are good and effective and others that you think are less effective?
How do I select content for my poster?
A good academic conference poster therefore serves a dual purpose: firstly, it’s an effective networking tool and secondly, it is a means to articulately communicate your research. Ask yourself two questions before you start to create your next poster:
- What is the most important/interesting/astounding finding from my research project?
- How can I visually share my research with conference attendees? Should I use charts, graphs, photos, images?
What makes a great poster? Important information should be readable from about 10 feet away. The title should be short and draw interest and the word count of the poster in its entirety should be between 300 and 800 words – i.e. keep the word count down! Most people put far too much text onto their posters. Make sure that your text is clear and to the point, and that your use of bullets, numbering, and headlines make it easy to read. It’s also a great idea to make effective use of graphics, colour, and fonts as well as a consistent and clean layout. Your poster must also include acknowledgments, your name, and institutional affiliation (lots of people forget!).
How do I select a design for my poster?
In terms of design guidelines, there are a few basic rules to follow.
- In the first place, simple is good: your background should be plain white or a very subtle gradient that is not distracting and your text should be clear and easy to read. Any charts or graphics should be able to be understood quickly and not include any unnecessary details.
- Make important information stand out.
- Section headings should be obvious and important research should draw attention.
- Also, line things up: try to fit all your text and headings onto a basic grid and align each section with others.
- If you include charts or photos, it looks best to have them equally-sized and distributed evenly.
- Don’t make your posters crowded! A viewer might only spend a minute or two looking at your poster so they need to be immediately able to make sense of your organisation and be able to identify key sections.
In terms of organising information, remember that it’s always easiest to break it down into different sections, like Background, Objectives, Methodology, Results, and Recommendations. A typical poster might have four to eight of these sections laid out in three or four columns. Also remember that posters are read from left-to-right and from top-to-bottom so make sure to lay out your sections so that these can be read in order.
Here are some key things to thing about when putting your poster together.
- Do the sections of my poster flow logically? The sections of your poster should be organised and follow the general structure of Introduction -> Data collection -> Conclusions.
- Is all my text readable? -All the text on your poster should stand out against its background so use a legible font that can be read from a reasonable distance. Don’t forget to check for spelling mistakes!
- Are all my graphics good quality? Zoom in on your file up to 100% to make sure that all photos, charts, and illustrations look clear and crisp.
- Is my data understandable? All your tables, charts, and graphs should be clearly visible and understood in just a few seconds.
- Does the most important information stand out?
When skimming over your poster, the most important parts should catch your eye and be immediately obvious. If someone reads your poster for a minute or two, they should be able to fully understand your presentation.
We asked a number of PhD students what they thought goes into a good conference poster. Here’s what they told us:
- Don’t make it all text
- If you need to include lots of info, print out A4 supplements
- Don’t cover it in sponsors and names - it’s about the science
- Make sure figures / background figures are explained
- Big writing - less is more / a picture paints 1,000 words
- The abstract is very important - that’s what is published
- Make sure colors don’t clash / there is contrast between text and background
- Check conference info- nothing is worse than having a poster not fit
- Take care with printing - don’t print with the normal printer or fold your poster; printing a single copy at a print shop is surprisingly cheap - vinyl looks very professional
- Lots of people are printing on silk now - but it’s hard to put up straight and looks bad
- Always take your own pins / Velcro etc.
- Good idea if it can match the title of a paper / grant
If you missed our free webinar on poster preparation you can listen on demand by clicking webinar.