What makes a good poster?

As researchers, one of the most common ways of disseminating your research to the public is through the use of posters. Be it at large conferences, such as the AGU Fall Meeting in the Earth Sciences which routinely attract over 15000 scientists, company delegates and press, or smaller stake-holder engagement meetings, posters provide a great tool for user interaction. However, as with all endevours, if your poster isn’t up to scratch it can fall by the way side and not achieve the impact you hoped it would.

So what makes a good poster? Well, no doubt there are endless sites offering advice online. What I’ve collated here is the feedback from our latest Grad School Seminar in which we looked at and discussed a series of posters from conferences past. I’m not claiming this to be the be all and end all in poster design, but our panel of 15 postgrads seem to believe that these five tips will help you on your way and avoid the sometimes MANIC nature of poster design.

Memorability – Any successful poster needs to stay in the mind. Big catchy titles and clear, colourful images attract attention and will help your poster stay in the mind of the reader. Make sure the text is easy to read from a distance and is consistent across the whole poster (24pt. is good for the main text). Don’t forget to include your contact details. Make them clear and prominent, so the reader knows who to contact for more information after the conference. If your able to make your poster stay in the mind of the reader, he or she is more likely to talk about you to fellow colleagues and promote your work. You do however, want it to be remembered for being good, not for being bad!

Audience – Before you start writing the content for your poster, think about who you are presenting too. If it is a non-specialist audience, don’t load the text with lots of jargon and technical content. Do you need to provide more background detail on a certain aspect of your work, or will the audience know about the specifics of your research? If the audience is more specialised, for example at a scientific conference, then you can be more specific and technical. You may assume a certain level of prior knowledge. However, don’t go overboard. There are still likely to be people at the conference who may know less about your area of research than others. You may run the risk of scaring these people away and losing out on valuable feedback and advice.

Narrative – Having a clear narrative, or story, running through your poster will make it easier to read and understand. Ordering your text based on the way it should be read (e.g. Intro, Background, Methods, Results). Why not number your sections? This will help ensure the reader knows which section follows. Try and design the poster so that the reader is guided around the research (left to right, or top to bottom). Having the first section in the top right, the second section in the bottom left and the third section in the middle, is only going to confuse the reader (and probably yourself). Make it clear, easy to follow and logical.

Images – An picture paints a thousand words, or so they say. Clear, precise images can save you large chunks of text. The majority of ‘good’ posters are image ricg. A good image will also stay in the memory of the reader, especially if it is colourful, novel and exciting. However, you need to be careful that your image prints to a good quality. You don’t want to discover pixelated images when you return from the printers with your poster. Also remember to accurately and adequately describe the image in the caption, you may not be around all day at your poster so someone looking at it whilst you are not there will need to be able to understand what it is the image is showing. N.B. Don’t put images on your poster if they are not showing anything useful. Only include images which will add to narrative and help explain your research.

Colour – Making your poster stand out is key. You need to attract the attention of the attendees. One of the easiest ways to do this is through the use of colour. Using complimentary colours can help make your poster look better. The use of colours on a poster is a fine art (excuse the pun), using the wrong colour combinations can result in a garish poster which is not pleasing on the eye. Using dark, or more than one, colour(s) for the background raises issues relating to the colour of the text that you use. In general, it is good to use a single pastel colour, which adds colour but does not distract or detract from the content of the poster. Just remember, your poster should be remembered for its content, not its background colour!

Hopefully the tips above help you on your way to a good poster. Following the guides above will hopefully mean that making a poster isn’t MANIC. If you have any more tips you’d like to share, please comment below.


One comment

  1. […] Linking between posts on your own blog is highly effective but don’t add the hyperlink to the word ‘here’ or along those lines, instead ensure the anchor text reflects the content of what you are linking to. Eg, See Chris’s recent post on how to design an academic poster. […]

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