Presenting your research through an academic poster is a common part of the research student experience. Whether your poster is for an event within your School/Department or an external conference, it is an opportunity for you to practice and develop your skills at communicating your work in a clear and attractive way.
The advice below will help you make your own posters as effective as possible:
Step One - Check the Requirements
A good place to start is by checking whether the event at which your poster will be presented has any specific design or other requirements.
If you have not already received guidance from the event organisers, it might be worth contacting them to confirm whether your poster should:
- follow a specific template for the event
- be a specific size/orientation (landscape or portrait)
- use a specific font type/size
- meet any other content/design requirements
You might also want to confirm the more practical details such as when to put up/take down your poster and whether you will need to stay with your poster so that you can speak about it to other delegates.
Step Two - Plan Your Poster
Your viewers need to be able to quickly grasp your poster's key points, so you need to think about what the key points are and how you can communicate these as effectively as possible.
It might be useful to start by jotting down your key points as an ordered list so that you can see how these fit together from start to finish. You should think of your poster as being a concise narrative which gives viewers:
- a description of what was done
- an explanation as to what has been discovered and why that is important
- an idea of the next steps that are suggested by the findings
Once you have identified your key points, you should start to think about your audience - will they be familiar with the concepts you are describing? Are there sections which will need more explanation/background information? Also, keep in mind that who your audience is should influence the tone and language that you use. If your audience will mainly be fellow researchers, it is more appropriate to use discipline specific terms/conventions than if your poster is for a non-specialist audience.
Finally, take each section and break it down - again, noting what each one will cover. This will give you a base from which you can develop your content. As you go, think about whether your content is best communicated through words or images making sure that your key points stand out while your overall structure remains clear.
Step Three - Design Your Poster
Once you have decided on what your poster will say, you can start to think about how it will look. If your poster is to attract viewers it has to be visually attractive. Following some basic design principle will help you make your poster visually effective. Remember that your poster's appearance should enhance its content - be creative, but keep things simple and avoid visual tricks and gimmicks that just distract from what you have to say.
If you are unsure, speak with your supervisors or have a look at past posters on display in your School/Department.
Have a Strong Title
Your poster's title will play a big part in attracting the attention of viewers. Make sure that your title is descriptive without being too long. Again, remember who your audience will be and make sure that your title is worded appropriately - your viewers should be immediately able to see what your poster is about from its title.
Remember Your Key Points
Your poster is only a success if it communicates your key points. Make sure these are prominent and can be quickly grasped by the viewer. Remember that your viewer may be seeing from your poster from a distance - they should not need to read lots of text to find the main points. As a rule, the text parts of your poster should not come to more than 400 words. If what you have written comes to considerably more than this, think about whether any of it can be better communicated through diagrams or illustrations.
Make it Easy to Navigate
Your poster has to perform a very difficult job - to communicate clearly a complex academic argument to someone who will probably look at it only briefly. Viewers need to be able navigate through your poster so that they can follow your argument in a logical way from start to finish. Using text and colour appropriately will help viewers to navigate your poster, but you also need to give some thought as to how you will structure your poster's content so that viewers can see where to start, what the main points are, and where to finish.
You might structure your poster so that it is "read" from top to bottom. More likely, you will break it into blocks - dividing the content into two or three columns or rows or arranged around a central feature:
Whichever approach you use, think about how this will look and whether it suits what you have to say. You might want to try experimenting with different structures to see which one makes navigating your poster as easy as possible.
Key to making your poster easy to navigate is having something that acts as a focal point and catches the eye of your viewers. This might be your main title or a central illustration. Think about how you can frame your poster so that it highlights your focal point without disrupting the overall structure.
If you are stuck on how to structure your poster, look for examples on display in your School/Department to see if they give you any ideas.
Keep Text Formats Simple
With a poster, it is not just what you say but how it looks. You should use font types, font sizes, and line spacing to make your poster as visually effective as possible. A good rule of thumb is to keep things simple - keep to one font type and have a hierarchy for font size and line spacing.
Choose a font type that is easy to read from a distance. A plain font like Ariel is recommended - you might also consider Trebuchet or Helvetica.
As with font type, you need a font size that is easy to read from a distance. You also need to have a hierarchy of font sizes to help your viewers distinguish headings from the main text. We suggest the following font sizes for posters:
- Poster Title - 18pt bold
- Poster Sub-Heading - 12pt
- Poster Section Title - 9pt bold
- Poster Section Text - 8pt
Do not worry if these sizes seem too small - an 8pt font enlarges to approximately 24pt on posters printed to A1 size and approximately 32pt on posters printed to A0 size.
Line spacing can help make the text parts of your poster easier to read and increase its impact. We suggest that you have a hierarchy for line spacing following your font size hierarchy. For an example of how this is done, take a look at the University templates.
Use a Colour Scheme
As with your text, the best advice with colour is to keep things simple. Select two or three colours that work well together and stick with them - for example, use shades of the same colour:
The University's poster templates are a good example of how to use a clear but consistent colour scheme.
If possible, your diagrams/charts should follow the same colour scheme as your poster - making sure that this does not detract from their impact. For example, if the background colour is light blue and your poster features charts, can these charts be done in a darker blue for consistency?
Finally, do not be tempted to experiment with different colours for the written parts of your poster. Having the main heading in colour may work so long as it is consistent with the overall colour scheme, but all other text should be in black.
Use Images Effectively
In a poster images work much better than long passages of text. Think about whether your poster's key messages can be communicated through images - charts, diagrams, or illustrations. Remember that a strong image will catch the eye of people passing by and is a good way to get them interested in your poster.
Finally, remember that any images you do use should be labelled and, if they are third party material, appropriately referenced.
Step Four - Get Feedback
Your poster should now be ready for printing. Before you get the final copy printed, why not let your supervisors and your colleagues take a look at it? They may have useful comments or suggest something you had not thought of previously.
Templates and Resources
The University has a number of resources to help you give your posters a more professional look:
- Poster Templates
- Poster Planning and Design - Online Tutorial
- Using MS PowerPoint for Posters - Study Guide
- Using MS PowerPoint for Posters - Video
You may find it helpful to look at posters that other research students have designed. You can find a wide variety of approaches on the US website PhD Posters. Closer to home, why not look at some of the entries that have been submitted to the Festival of Postgraduate Research.
Before you print your poster, make sure to proofread it thoroughly - check that it is free from spelling errors and that everything you have written makes sense.
Remember that your poster will reflect on both you and your research group. You will need to make sure that:
- it is referenced appropriately and correctly
- statements are accurate and supported
- it is free from any inadvertent plagiarism
Design Services offer a large-format inkjet printing and laminating service for one-off academic posters. Poster printing usually takes three working days, so orders must be placed in good time - see the Design Services Website.