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Abbey Dudas Author
Abbey is a freelance science writer specializing in content related to biology, psychology, environmental science, and communications. After graduating from Queen’s University (Ontario, Canada) with a bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology, Abbey has been pursuing a career in science communications. In her free time, she loves traveling and exploring the natural world; spending as much time outdoors as possible.
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Abbey Dudas Author
Abbey is a freelance science writer specializing in content related to biology, psychology, environmental science, and communications. After graduating from Queen’s University (Ontario, Canada) with a bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology, Abbey has been pursuing a career in science communications. In her free time, she loves traveling and exploring the natural world; spending as much time outdoors as possible.
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In academia, the communication of your research is essential. Whether you are delivering a presentation, writing a research paper, or making an academic poster, you need to effectively communicate your message. But, not all forms of communication are created equal and creating a poster has its own set of challenges and advantages. Here, we will discuss how to create an excellent academic poster so that you can effectively communicate your work.

What is an academic poster?

An academic poster is a combination of a professional presentation and your research paper. It should be a summary of the research you are presenting at a conference, that is visually augmented.

This type of communication provides the opportunity for more intimate discussions and increased interaction. Small groups of conference attendees come to view and read the academic posters, so it is likely that posters will be grouped by field or topic. This gives people the opportunity to wander the room and find interesting research to read.

Academic posters are found at conferences, symposia, in laboratory hallways, and are presented on informational days. The main reason that they are utilized is that it offers a way to spread knowledge and research more easily than through textbooks or lectures. They are visually appealing and only the most important information is presented.

Why create an academic poster?

This type of communication opens the door for easy collaboration since the setting is less formal than a lecture or conference presentation. Researchers are able to demonstrate their expertise, attention to detail, and practice their public speaking abilities in an informal setting.

Academic posters are used to present information to researchers in a field, to those in related fields, and/or to potentially uninterested people that are attracted by a nice poster. It is important to provide something for each one of these audiences.

Those who are reading the posters are able to learn about the most current research in specific fields and share ideas with other scientists. Discussing research with peers is one of the most important aspects of academic work because it solidifies thought processes, opens the mind for new ways of thinking, and represents gaps in the field knowledge.

What does your poster absolutely need?

  • The same title as your submitted abstract

Your name and academic institution should also appear on the poster, preferably directly under the title.

  • Full abstract

A lot of the time, individuals choose to bold their abstract, or make it stand out in some way. This will be the first thing readers choose to read after skimming the poster and deciding if they want to read through the entire thing. Make it easy for them to find it.

  • Your introduction and methods

The introduction can be a shortened version of the one used in your research paper and can have a relevant image or an existing model that would be useful for setting the scene. The methods section does not need to be complete. Rather, consider making a flow chart or a visual representation of the research.

  • The results

In the results section, including the figures, graphs, charts or anything that can represent what was found – use words only when necessary. Highlight the main findings so they are easy to see when skimming the poster.

  • The discussion

The discussion can be bulleted or in point form so that it is easier to read. An academic poster does not need to have all the information, this is simply a summary of the research. Put the most critical information in the discussion – the information that really matters.

  • Literature cited and acknowledgements

Be sure to acknowledge everyone who made the research possible. For example, if there was a specific funder, collaborators, etc.

Remember that you want your poster to be eye-catching so that people are drawn in to read it. Good visuals and legible fonts are key in a good poster.

What should your poster look like?

  • Organize your poster effectively

The most important aspect of the appearance of your poster is organization. Understand the gravity of reading and know that your audience is going to read in columns – from top to bottom. When creating your poster, create an obvious flow for the eyes so that the reader does not need to think about where to look next. This can cause confusion and make them lose interest in the researcher.

  • Use numbers to guide the reader

Many people choose to include numbers as a way to ensure that the reader knows where to head next. But, if you do not include numbers, make the poster clean and organized. Use the white space to your advantage by creating divisions between sections.

  • Balance positive and negative space

Think about space in terms of positive (foreground space or the space to focus on) and negative (background space). If there is too much negative space, the poster will appear incomplete or unfinished. This creates a disassociate appearance. On the other hand, if there is too little negative space, the poster will appear cluttered, busy and sometimes difficult to read.

  • Pick the right font

With fonts, you should be able to read everything on your poster from 6 feet away. The general rule of thumb is that the body should be at least 24 points, headings should a minimum of 48 points, and titles should be a minimum of 72 points.

  • Use a visual hierarchy

Not everyone is going to read your entire poster. Many will choose to skim it and consider if it is worth reading the whole way through or whether they wish to find you and have a discussion. When creating your poster, you can utilize what is known as a visual hierarchy to appease the people that are not going to read through the research right away. This ensures that they get a good idea of what the topic is and the main takeaways.

When thinking about a visual hierarchy, remember that as humans, we tend to focus on differences rather than similarities. Using color, contrast, fonts, orientation, and other graphic design features can give parts of your poster the necessary differences to attract the reader’s eye. For example, keeping headers large, bolding main messages, using color to give a semblance of importance or lack thereof.

  • Using color in your academic poster

Color can turn a good poster into a great poster, but it can also decrease the effectiveness of the communication. Using too much color or too many different colors can make the poster look messy and unprofessional. A limit of three different colors is the typical recommendation, however, this can sometimes not be avoided (graphs and charts for example).

When working, to choose the colors to use, consider the differences in warm and cool colors. Warm colors are the reds, browns, and yellows. These colors stand out more and appear more active. They can evoke feelings of optimism and increased energy, but they can also be overwhelming when overused. Cool colors are the blues, greens, and violets. They tend to fall into the background and create feelings of calmness. They can also evoke feelings of sadness.

Tips to help you with your poster and your presentation

  • Before building your poster, figure out if there are any rules and regulations or rubrics for the conference or event you are attending.
  • Create a storyboard or plan for the poster and fill in the sections afterward.
  • Write simply and remember that the poster should be primarily image-driven if possible.
  • Work with your research supervisor or sponsor to ensure that they are happy with the design of the poster.
  • Think about how you will present the poster. Present information that is perhaps not in the poster but would interesting to those you are having a discussion with.
  • Practice transitions between your sections so that when you are delivering the information, it is smooth and clear.
  • Write practice questions that you think people might ask you and be ready to answer them.
  • Know every aspect of what is on your poster and your project.

Conclusion

If you work in academia, you are going to need to make a poster at some point. This is an effective way to informally communicate your research. Take advantage of the opportunity to get your paper out there. Just make sure that the poster is eye catching and well organized, while maintaining professionalism and communication efficacy.

References

Gunfogan, B., Koshy, K., Kuar, L., & Whitehurst, K. (2016) How to make an academic poster. Annals of Medicine and Surgery 11:69-71. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amsu.2016.09.001