Making scientific posters

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Poster Goals

Posters can used in different settings. For example, you might design a poster to be a stand-alone "self-extracting archive" that stands unattended in the hallway of the biology building. Somebody who knows nothing about what you are doing and why would use the poster to, by themselves, learn something about what's going on. As a second example, you might design a poster that will be "staffed" by a live person (you!) who is expert in the work that's described on the poster. In this case, many details and much background might be best communicated verbally as you walk somebody through the poster (or in response to specific questions). I'm sure you can imagine other sorts of poster "settings." Thinking about the environment in which your poster must survive (and thrive) will play an important role in choosing what to include/exclude. So, make sure to take the time...

Poster Layout

Here's one default template for a poster. This template is a carry-over from the "old days" before everybody and their mother could afford fancy billboard scale poster printers. In such dark times, it was neccesary to physically construct your poster using 8.5x11 inch sheets of paper and, god forbid, poster board. Still, the page-by-page structure of such a poster is useful in that it enforces a modular architecture on your poster. You should be able to imagine swapping in fresh content as your research advances.

Consider a poster that is made up of four columns of three 8.5x11 inch pages each. This will give you 12 "pages" on your poster total. First off, you want to organize the "flow" of your poster on a column by column basis. Start with the left-most column and go down, then the second column (top to bottom) and so on. If you organize the flow of your poster as left-to-right, top-to-bottom (like written English) then the folks who are trying to read your poster will have to act as human typewriter carriage returns [this can produce funny situations, and violent collisions, when many people are trying to view the same poster at once]. So, top-to-bottom first, on a column-by-column basis, columns from left-to-right.

The left-most column should provide a "summary" page, a "what's the problem?" page, and a "how am i going to solve the problem/what's my approach page?"

The second column should introduce and explain your first set of results (three pages, top-to-bottom).

The third column should introduce and explain your second set of results (three pages, top-to-bottom).

The final, right-most column should wrap up. Usually, I like to use the top-right page to showcase my weirdest, most interesting, provocative, important, or bizarre result (i.e., have fun here). Alternatively, you can try to use the top right page to introduce how your work can be recast in a more general form (or be viewed from a different perspective). The second page in the right-most column should describe your future directions and/or implications of the work. The bottom right page should give references, personal acknowledgements, and funding sources.

Other things you'll want to consider with posters are:

  1. don't have too much text (common problem, especially with posters that are going to be staffed by a live person).;
  2. make sure the fonts are consistent across the entire poster
  3. make sure that the font size is big enough for somebody to read. if you aren't sure, make it bigger
  4. consider numbering the pages (or, if you are using a poster printer, consider numbering the sections of your poster).