Monday, March 17, 2014

Creating Better Research Posters

Poster sessions provide opportunities for one-on-one interactions with individuals in your field and can facilitate high-quality networking that will benefit you and your future career (Shives, 2014). Avoid some of the common mistakes people make when putting together research posters by following the tips below:

  • Focus your information: Poster size is limited so you need to focus in on the main information you want to convey. Determine what specific data you need to include in order to get your message across to an audience that may be unfamiliar with your research topic. Determine the minimum amount of information that is needed to create a convincing narrative of the research. If you keep having to reduce the font size to under 18 points to fit in all the information, you need to start cutting back. "Great information is often trapped in dense documents. Rechunking and turning words into pictures helps make them understood" (Duarte).
  • Keep it simple: Do not overwhelm your audience with tiny, dense text and a dozen hard to decipher images and graphs. Use only the data and text that you need in order to support your conclusions. The Cornell Center for Materials Research suggests limiting posters to 250 words that describe only a few major points.
  • Employ good design:
      • Don't use too many bright colors or fancy fonts.
      • Use elements that enhance the information you are presenting such as text boxes and bolt print.
      • Don't underestimate the value of white space on your poster - every inch of the poster does not need to be filled with text and/or data.
      • The design should fade into the background so that your research can be clearly interpreted.
  • Arrange information for maximum impact: Viewers expect the most important part of the poster to be right in the middle. Fill the middle of your poster with the experimental figures and other pertinent information and in the other sections place the introduction, conclusion, methods, acknowledgements, references, etc.
  • Know your audience: Posters are the compressed version of your work that will be presented to an audience so it is important to know who that audience is. Know what the audience expects from your poster and whether it is a general session or a specific subsection of your discipline in which every knows the same jargon. Duarte suggests that you take a mental walk in your audiences' shoes and try to anticipate their concerns and questions and keep those thoughts in mind as you construct your poster.
  • Look at examples: Most graduate departments should have some examples of previous posters on hand that you can look at for a template of how to arrange the content. You may also be able to find examples from your specific discipline by doing a Google image search. The Cornell Center for Materials Research has put together a 68 page step-by-step guide for poster design that covers everything from the size of the title to the size of the graphics.
  • Hone your poster talk: If you have the opportunity to present your poster during a session, take some time to plan your talk. Use this opportunity to talk about the highlights of your research and convey any additional information that you were not able to include on the poster. Now your information well and be ready to answer questions.
For more information:
Cornell University. Scientific poster design: How to keep your poster from resembling an abstract painting. Cornell Center for Materials Research.

Duarte, N. Slidedocs: Spread ideas with effective visual documents.

Shives, K. (March 9, 2014). 5 Pointers for a Better Poster. Gradhacker.