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How to make your scientific posters stand out
Scientific poster sessions are a great opportunity for graduate students and young researchers to show off their recent work to a wide group of people, including senior scientists. The biggest problem with these sessions is that they tend to have vast numbers of posters and people all vying for attention.
What can you do to make your poster draw the attention of busy, and quite possibly exhausted, researchers above the others?
Engaging from afar
The subject of your poster should be clear from 3 metres away, and images should be clear from 1.5 metres away. Passers-by won’t stop at your poster if they can’t see what your poster is about, and if no elements stand out to them.
Big, clear images and figures
First, don’t try and put in too many figures or images. Only use those that show the critical data from which you have extrapolated your main conclusions. Second, make sure that each one is large enough to be clear. Try to use a decent sized eye-catching image from your experiment to grab attention from a distance. All images and figures need to have a title and an explanation in an appropriate location on the poster (so it is obvious which image you are talking about).
Graphs should show any relationships between data as clearly as possible. They need to have clear axes labels, titles and plot lines.
Ensure there is a balance
There needs to be a balance of text and figures/images across the poster to keep the audience engaged throughout. Avoid creating a poster with text on one side and images on the other, as this means the reader has a lot of text to take in at once.
Split the layout into columns
Columns make the lines shorter and, therefore, easier to read. Additionally, they add vertical lines to the layout, which helps when aligning other elements. (They don’t necessarily have to be the same width throughout the poster.) They also make your poster easy to follow, as the order of information is clearer to see.
Consider where the most important findings and figures should be on the poster
Don’t bury your conclusions and key figures at the bottom of the page. Most English-speaking people instinctually look at the top left of a page and work towards the bottom right. Therefore, you need to put your key findings at the top and they should stand out. For example, add dark background and light font colours especially for this section.
Use big font sizes and different font types
A font size between 36-44 is ideal for titles and headings, and a font larger than 22 should be used for the body text. A sans-serif font is best used for headings. They are easier to read from a distance and should be large enough to make spotting keywords easy from a few metres away. When printed, large blocks of text are easier to read in serif fonts and are the best choice for the body text. Be careful not to use too many different fonts or font sizes as this will look messy.
Justify columns of text to the left
Full justification of columns may make the poster look neat, but it will make the text harder to understand. The inconsistency of spaces between the words creates an awkward reading experience.
Make intelligent use of white space
With scientific posters, it is very tempting to put in loads of information and use up every possible space. This will lead to a confusing, cluttered and difficult to read poster that passers-by are likely to walk straight past.
Effective use of white space will make the poster a pleasure to read. It will lead the eye from one element to the next, in the order intended. It should also make the reader aware of related elements on the page.
The internet has vast amounts of information on how to use white space like a professional designer.
Use a clean and light colour palette to make it easier to read
The majority of your background colours should be light, neutral colours. This will create a greater contrast with your text, which should generally be black. It also means that when you do use bolder colours it will be obvious that this is an important part of the poster. Textured or picture backgrounds should never be used. They won’t add any new or necessary information to your poster and will serve as a distraction to the science.
Limit your word count to 1,000 word
A useful rule for minimising text is to have a maximum word count of 1,000, including figure legends. Spread out well across a large poster this number gives a good balance between being able to explain the research and leaving room for figures and white space.
The title should create intrigue
The title is the most important piece of text on the poster. If your poster is the explanation of a single research paper, then don’t use the same title (unless it happens to be snappy and to the point – unlike most). The title should be short, contain as many keywords as possible and encourage the reader to look further into the research. Don’t give everything away in the title; create a reason for them to come closer and read more.
Use Illustrations to explain difficult concepts
It is often easier and clearer to explain a difficult concept with a well annotated illustration or cartoon. Using text can lead to a long-winded and overly complicated description, leading to confusion and misunderstanding. It should also lead to a more pleasing design by removing unnecessary chunks of texts.
To make sure that you are confident that your poster clearly conveys your research and is eye-catching to passers-by, show it to your colleagues, and even researchers in another department. Their honest feedback will ensure your poster is both appealing and clear.
Stick to these rules and you will have a visually appealing poster that is easy to follow and understand. Clear images and important keywords in the headlines will help attendees notice your poster from afar and extract people from the crowd who are excited about what you have to show them. Combined with a great abstract for the programme, and a well-practised talk about your findings, this should lead to a successful poster session.
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