This week I ran a workshop at UWE on the topic of putting together posters for the purpose of presenting research at conferences. I deliberately called this “Perfect Posters” because I had a sneaking suspicion that it might draw folks in and it did! So I began by telling the researchers that there probably isn’t such a thing as a perfect poster, there is no ‘right way’ or ‘wrong way’, just a range of approaches that are more effective than others at communicating the intended message.
Researchers are often confused about what posters are for, so I spent some time discussing, debating and/or arguing about what they are & why conferences increasingly have them as part of a programme.
Posters are a way of presenting one or two central themes of your work using images and text with the objective of encouraging conference attendees to enter into a dialogue with you about your research. It is hard enough to achieve this in an ideal setting but the additional challenge for poster presentations are that they are often held in less than ideal conditions. It was also discussed at some length what they are not, they are not simply a reorganisation of a journal article onto one sheet of paper, they are not the same as an oral presentation. It requires a different way of thinking and, honestly, a lot of preparation time in order to put one together.
Here is an audiocast of the main themes contained in the prezi (which is embedded below). I hope you find it useful.
Here is the prezi I used, embedded below.
The rest of the session was covering hints and tips for putting together posters, here are those tips: –
1) Think about your purpose. What are you trying to achieve? Try to avoid presenting everything that you have done, think of a take home message and build from there.
2) Think about your audience. It is unlikely that your audience will be all in the exact same area of research as you, it more likely that some will be in broadly the same area, some will be in related areas and some will be non specialist. This means think about the language and/or jargon that you use or rather do NOT use. Use of plain language is not the same as dumbing down, if noone understands your research, how will it be useful??
3) Think about your space. Find out how big your display area will be before you start to put the poster together! An obvious tip perhaps but one often ignored.
4) Think about pictures. The saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words” so consider the use of images, diagrams, photographs that can give the reader information better than reading lines of text.
5) Think about text size. Bigger is better! A poster is not the same as reading from a page, it is read from a distance so text needs to be increased accordingly.
6) Think about using less verbiage. Think back to your central message, edit, edit, edit and then edit some more. If anything doesn’t back up the central message then dump it.
7) Think about colour. Some colour is good, it can help to orient the reader around your poster and make things stand out. BUT be careful, many posters can be hindered by garish colour schemes!
8) Think about where to place different sections in your poster. Use headings to help guide the reader. Popular convention appears to be to arrange images and words in the same format as a magazine article, broadly in columns. However there is no rule that states you have to follow this convention, organise your poster in a way that maximises impact but make sure that the reader is left in no doubt of where to look, you need to provide a visual grammar so to speak.
9) Think about titles. Academic convention seems to be that the longer a title is, the more impressive it is. In fact, many go as far as inserting a colon into the title so that it can be made even longer! Think about your purpose, you want to attract people to read your poster and talk to you, not run a mile from an incomprehensible title, so keep it short, intriguing and inviting.
10) Think about doing the small things. Can you take a handout of your poster and/or a relevant research article that explains something in more detail to give to interested people. It will free up your poster to focus on the main message without getting bogged down. Be enthusiastic about your research, no matter how many times you have to explain the same thing. It matters.
These are just a few tips to be going on with, I dipped into a few resources to help me with this:-
P.s. I also trawled Google Images for some examples of research posters which I now include below. I shall call this, “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”. You can decide for yourself which ones are which, okay?
I'm a former researcher into the microbiology of the mouth who now runs a skills development programme for other researchers.