Improving your scientific poster presentations

A web tutorial by Ned Carter & Kenneth Nilsson, revised and extended by the authors and Olle Bergman.

Background: The content on this page was originally created by Ned Carter & Kenneth Nilsson for Uppsala University Hospital and was a part of the uu.se web site. As Ned and Kenneth left the hospital to work elsewhere, the web pages were eventually removed from uu.se. In this version, Olle Bergman has joined the team. Content is added to this page gradually.

Summary: three tips for a readable poster

  1. Start with your conclusions.
  2. Use less and larger text.
  3. Emphasize figures and illustrations

Background

 

Our way of making posters

In two distinct ways, our instructions may differ from others that you find on the web:

  • Let the title reveal the conclusion, not only describe the project.
  • Let the first text box of the poster contain the conclusions of the study

 

Part 1: Planning the poster

In his book Eloquent Science, David M. Schultz introduces a concept where he defines two types of posters:
  • self-explanatory poster
  • interactive poster.

To decide what should be included on the poster, prepare a presentation of your research project according to the following limitations:

  • length: 6 minutes
  • understandable for scientists who work close to your field of research, but are no experts themselves (”intelligent but uninformed”)
  • based on three strong visuals (take or give one)
  • results in three conclusions (take or give one).

 

Part 2: The visual content

The visuals you chose for the presentation is the core of your poster.

Posters primarily are visual presentations. Self-explanatory graphics should dominate the poster. The text materials serve to support the graphic materials.

Good illustrations make for a better poster. A minimal amount of text materials should supplement the graphic materials.

Use regions of empty space to differentiate between and accentuate poster elements. Try to keep about 40% empty space and divide the rest equally between illustrations and text.

Illustrations should be easily legible from a minimum distance of two meters (six feet).

Restrained use of 2 – 3 colors for emphasis is valuable; overuse is not.

Emphasize illustrations by mounting them separately on foamboard or matte board which you then fasten to the background (see Preparations). This will add depth and life to your poster.

Be sure to get permission if you use someone else’s graphic material and acknowledge the creator on the poster.

Remove all non-essential information from graphs and tables (data curves not discussed by the poster; excess grid lines in tables)
Label data lines in graphs directly, using large type & color. Eliminate legends and keys.

Artful illustrations, luminous colors, or exquisite computer-rendered drawings do not substitute for CONTENT.

Lines in illustrations should be larger than normal. Use contrast and colors for emphasis.

Use colors to distinguish different data groups in graphs. Avoid using patterns or open bars in histograms.

Use borders about 0.5 inches all around each figures. Border colors can be used to link related presentations of data.

Colored transparency overlays are useful in comparing/contrasting graphic results

Part 3: The text content

The text

The title

• Start with the conclusion

Your title should highlight your conclusion, not simply describe what you’ve done.

Example 1:

”Treatment A Better than Treatment B”
is a better poster title than
”An Evaluation of Treatments A and B”.

• Think big, really big

The title should be readable from a distance of 5-7 meters, so that you will attract attention and entice viewers to step closer in order to learn more about your imaginative and exciting study.  Do what you have to in order to be seen. Your poster is just one of many competing for the attention of attendees.

Use a sans-serif font such as Helvetica or Arial for your title and text. The title should be at least 4-5 centimeters tall, which corresponds to about a 96 point size (or 48 points enlarged by 200% when printed). All other text on your poster should be at least 1 cm tall. More and more universities have introduced a style guide for research posters in which the title is written in what is–hopefully!–a simple, easy to read font.

For a one line title, use all capitals, “TITLE”. For two or more lines, capitalize only the first letter, “Title”, since text more than one line long is difficult to read if everything is capitalized. Use boldface.

There are seldom rules regarding line justification of the title. Determine if you will left or center justify the text of the title banner once it has been formatted, based upon personal preferences and space constraints.

Authors’ names

Use boldface and mixed upper/lower case for the authors names. Use first and last names, especially if you will be standing by your poster, to make it easier for attendees to talk with you. You rarely need to include your middle initial or title; include these on your handout, if you believe that they must be written somewhere.

Titles (Ph.D., M.D. etc.) are usually omitted, although the meeting organizers may require that the presenting author, student authors, or society members be indicated.

Authors’ affiliations

Try to group author’s names and affiliations, so that attendees can easily identify who comes from where.  City and state names can be dropped from the institutional affiliations. Your complete contact information—including mailing address, telephone, e-mail and website addresses—should be included on your handout.

Affiliations can be even smaller, at about 36 – 48 points (0.5 – 0.75 inch). Use plain text, no boldface, and mixed upper/lower case for affiliations.

Text Body

Conclusions first!
Always put the most important part – your conclusions – first! Place your conclusions in the upper left hand corner of your poster.

Prepare from the reader’s perspective. What was done, by who and your conclusion has to be accessible within a couple of second’s reading! Use active voice when writing the text.

Text size
Letters 1 cm high can be easily read
from a distance of 2 meters while standing.

Fonts to use
Use sans serif fonts such as Arial or Helvetica, rather than fonts like Old English or Times or Courier.

Paragraph format
Use a maximum of 45 letters per line and no more than 4 – 6 lines per paragraph. Use left alignment! Justified text (straight right margin) is difficult to read while standing.

Avoid abbreviations
Avoid using abbreviations except for standard forms such as cm, m, etc. Abbreviations that require explanations make reading more difficult. The loss of accessability costs more than the space gained.

Amount of text
Limit yourself to 250 words of text. Delete all references and filler phrases, such as see Figure … Your poster is an advertisement, not an article or report.

Captions

Make sure that every figure, table and picture has a caption that describes what is being shown. Since they have explanatory captions, you don’t need to label an illustrations with Figure 1, Table 2, etc.

All text should be horizontal, not vertical. You may need to make new labels for figures you have published. See “Illustrations”.

Letters should be at least 1 cm high in a sans serif font which easily can be read from a distance of 2 meters while standing.

Refer to your instructions to presenters for other details.

Part 3: Presenting the Poster

To be continued