More thoughts about scientific poster presentations
As our academic year comes to an end and our undergraduate and masters students are busy preparing scientific posters of their dissertation research, I am reminded of why I dread having to grade these posters every year. Students usually just dump their manuscript into a poster template and then trim it down until it fits.
Of course, this approach is not much different from how many scientists create their posters. Faced with deadlines and the perceived lesser importance of posters, most scientists simply do not think much about their posters. Perhaps they are pissed off that they didn’t get a talk or they feel that fewer people may see their poster than witness an oral presentation.
I’ve argued elsewhere that this approach will accomplish the goal of making a poster, but will not necessarily accomplish the real goal, which is to sell your research ideas to other people.
Science could benefit from a little bit of marketing, in the same way that commercial products are marketed. I’m not arguing for a slick, manipulative advertising campaign that distorts the facts, but let’s start with the basics.
Posters should be visual. Few people will want to engage reading large amounts of text, especially in the loud, socializing, and distracting environment of a conference poster session. Focus on high-quality graphics that are annotated to communicate your point.
Posters should be aesthetically pleasing. Don’t cram text and figures onto the poster. Leave large regions of open space. Choose pleasing color combinations. Make the little bit of text on the poster easy to read.
Posters should communicate one main point. The viewer should walk away from the poster having learned one thing. Therefore, limit content on your poster that does not support your one main point.
Not following these tips runs the risk of having your poster look like every other poster in the long rows of posterboards and being ignored.
Here are some other resources where you may find good information on posters and their construction.
postersession.com: Nice collection of basic poster templates to get you started (also various printing and shipping options). They also have a great blog with poster tips.
Colin Purrington’s Designing Conference Posters: One of the most thorough resources on the internet on poster construction.