So, you need to put together a poster. You want people to understand it, to get your message across and have it really do its job. This might seem like a substantial task, but by following our guidelines for what makes a great poster, it will become effortless!
Your poster will need to be a good blend of quality contents and inviting design. The contents are arguably more important, but without a good design, no one will want to read it – so a combination of both is best.
If you are unsure of what should actually be included in your poster, think of what you would include in a paper. You will need an abstract, clear title, motivation, methods, results, conclusion and recommendations and any additional information/references to finish with. You must also consider that it needs to fit on one sheet of paper, complete with images, graphs, and info-graphics, all legible from a short distance.
Furthermore, it is a poster for a reason. Not only should the data be presented concisely, but you must think “what am I adding when I present it” and “what do the non-text elements add to it?”.
Now for more specifics below.
First off, the title. You want people to see what the poster is about straight away. Having a clear title or hypothesis at the top of the page will do this for you. This font should be bigger and bolder than the rest, to make it stand out.
Next, you want to have the reason driving your work. Your audience or readers should not only know what you are presenting but why. What is the reason behind your research? Why do they need to hear about it? Make this clear from the start.
The way in which you went about your research should be laid out. This is so others can better understand how you obtained your results and where you might draw alternative conclusions from. Having the methods explained also provides more proof for your conclusions and recommendations.
Now onto the results, these could be laid out as text, images, graphs or infographics (all will be discussed more in the design section). This section is one of the most important from the whole poster, so should be given center-stage. This is where the method comes in, providing the route to achieving the results.
The conclusion and recommendations you draw and give from your results will be the main point of interest for your audience. Whether your hypothesis was proven and what that might imply. You must also clearly defend your recommendations, with direct and rational reasoning.
The final section of the poster should be any references to be made and any other information you might want to provide. None of this information should be new since the conclusion was already presented. Much like a paper, the references should be full and comply with your organization/institution’s standards.
Adapt to your audience
Just as if you were giving a PowerPoint presentation, you need to adapt your poster to the people who need to read it. Do certain topics need more explanation, or can you presume their knowledge on the subject? If lots of definitions are needed that take up valuable real estate, consider making an index accompanying the poster itself.
Moving towards the design aspect, the contents of your poster should have a logical, easy-to-follow, flow. This means when looking at it, your eyes can easily pass over and read the information, without having to jump around the page.
The design needs to be appealing to your audience, encouraging them to read it fully. To achieve this you need the poster should start with being an appropriate size, allowing readers to read it from a short distance.
Make it visual with a balance of text, images, graphs and other applicable media, since a poster is a visualization of your work. Whichever media you use, they should all be combined in a clear and clean-looking way. Making it easy for readers to understand the information you are presenting.
Now for more details, starting with size.
You will need to make sure you know the size requirements of the poster. This may seem obvious, but this will determine the scale and layout of all of the contents, so you will want to make sure you have it right the first time. If not, you might have to resize and restructure, which will only waste your time.
The overall design of your poster, or the layout, should be clean and easy on the eyes. Your readers should be able to get through the information without much strain. Having a clear layout will also give your poster a more professional look since it shows good presentation skills and ability to organize your work.
There should be a good balance of text, images, graphs and other media in your poster. The number of words in the text could range from 300-800, but should not be the majority of visual real estate. A poster is a visual way to convey your research and results, so using images, graphs and info-graphics are key.
Scale and caption media
If you are including media such as images in your poster, make sure to give them scales and captions. This gives them context for your audience and aids their understanding. Graphs should also be titled and captioned, with appropriate axes just as they would be anywhere else.
Legible from short distances
You will want people to be able to read from your poster from about 1.5 metres away. This is to enable people to not need to crowd around the poster nor need to strain to see what is on it. If you are presenting in a large room, having a poster on the bigger side will also help people to see if from afar. Handouts would also be useful in this instance; more about those below!
Just like when you are writing a paper, you will need an abstract to give an overview of what readers should expect to find inside. This should just contain text and should be concise in describing/giving additional detail to the poster.
If you are indeed presenting your poster, as you would a PowerPoint, then it might be beneficial to give handouts to the audience. Since, if you are in a large room, those at the back may not be able to see.
And with that, you should be equipped to make some killer posters! Just set out the steps for yourself, taking them one at a time and what seems like a mountainous task will be done in no time. Happy poster making!