Perfect Posters! A guide for researchers

The perfect poster guaranteed!

The perfect poster guaranteed!

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:-

Creating effective poster presentations – George Hess, Kathryn Tosney & Leon Ligel

How do I create an effective scientific poster? – Bandwidth

Preparing Scientific Illustrations: A guide to better posters, presentations and publications – Mary Helen Briscoe

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?

UWE Postgraduate Research Summer Connections

Connections is the theme for the UWE summer conference for postgraduate research students on Friday 1st July.



This event has been in the making for a little while now, most of the faculties and/or departments at UWE have recognised and provide the opportunity for their research students to present aspects of their research at internal symposia or conferences. It allows researchers to practice communicating their research to their close peers in a friendly, supportive environment. Last year I worked closely with the (then) Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities to put on an event that would be useful & interesting to all research students in that Faculty regardless of their discipline areas. So we brought in an experienced facilitator, Malcolm Love, to talk to the research students about communicating their research to a wider audience. This was followed by an inspirational talk by Professor Len Barton on the topic of getting your research published, he shared many tips for early career researchers.

Fast forward a year and we are trying to make this an event for research students from across the whole of UWE, an event that would be useful or interesting regardless of ones subject area, something that I hope will become a regular fixture in the skills development calendar.

Postgraduate Research Student Summer Connections Programme

So what’s lined up?

1) Janet Wilkinson from Three Times Three will be opening the day with a session on how to ‘make connections with purpose’. She has a really intuitive take on how to get the best out of situations where engaging and ‘networking’ (some people find this term a bit…corporate?) with people is required. Inspirational facilitator she definitely is & I have worked with her for nearly ten years now.

2) The Poster Session. We’ve invited all research students to submit a poster for this event, it will hopefully showcase the diversity of the research that goes on across the university. All the posters will be entered into a competition to win the prizes we have up for grabs!

3) A key note address from Professor Paul Gough, the deputy Vice Chancellor of UWE and the most senior bod who oversees research activity. He came to the South West Universities GRAD School at Buckland Hall last year and gave a fascinating insight into how he used his networks to advance in his career. 

4) The Judges! I’ve called in a few favours to gather a select panel of learned folks to decide who will get the prize. We have Paul Gough to chair, Janet WilkinsonKaren Bultitude from the Science Communication Unit, Dee Smart who oversees community & public engagement at UWE and Neil Willey who is a reader in environmental plant physiology. And the prizes? 1) An Amazon Kindle, 2) £75 of Amazon Vouchers, 3) £25 iTunes voucher

5) The free food & drink! Key to any good research student gathering is the unwritten rule that the catering needs to fulfil the needs of your most impoverished of researchers so we have put on a free buffet lunch and the event will close with a drinks reception + canapes (we are talking UWE wine though which is high in alcohol, high in tannin, low in palatability…)

And that’s not all folks…. Some of the postgraduate research student representatives are organising an informal trip to the Canteen at Co Exist in Stokes Croft after the drink reception, surely a good way to start ones weekend.

How do you get in on the act? You can find out more here (and register if you are a UWE research student) at the Research Student Summer Connections Page 


I’ll look forward to seeing you there and I’ll post up highlights and pictures in due course.