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MLS 452: Research Methods & Project: Scientific Posters

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Scientific Posters

What is a scientific poster?

A scientific poster is a visual representation of your research results. Often presented at conferences, poster sessions allow researchers to discuss their data and ideas with other scientists in an informal setting.

Think of your scientific poster as a visual "elevator speech." Anyone walking by should be able to quickly read through all of the information on your poster in 30 seconds or less and have a clear understanding of your research.

What should I include on my poster?

Scientific posters have two key components:

  1. Visuals
  2. Research [these are sample headings; yours might be different]
    • Introduction
    • Objectives
    • Methodology
    • Results
    • Discussion
    • References

A poster might also include an Abstract and/or Acknowledgements section.

Make sure that your poster is attractive and aesthetically pleasing so that others will be interested in learning more about your research. Since you'll be able to discuss your research with others one-on-one or in a small group setting, it isn't necessary to include a whole lot of supporting details on your poster. In fact, too much text and not enough images, charts, graphs, etc. might actually discourage people from wanting to hear about your research.

Avoid sensory overload by keeping things brief but descriptive and to-the-point.

Sources

Knisely, K. (2013). A student handbook for writing in biology (4th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Moon Library. (2019, May 15). Poster design. Retrieved September 12, 2019, from https://libguides.esf.edu/posters

Layout

It's a good idea to draw a rough sketch of your poster before you start creating it.
First, decide on the orientation of your poster:

  • Landscape: Wider than it is long
  • Portrait: Longer than it is wide
This will help you to determine how many columns you want to divide your poster into: 2, 3, or 4.

Don't forget to prominently display the title and author(s) at the top of your poster, preferably centered.

Appearance

Your poster should be both professional and attention-getting. Select a pleasant color scheme and relevant graphics while avoiding gimmicks that might prevent others from taking you and your research results seriously.

Make sure that your information is organized into its proper sections so that it flows from top-left to bottom-right. Other than your title and author name(s), don't center your text, and don't include large blocks of text.

The point of a scientific poster is to start a conversation about your research; you don't want to stand there awkwardly while someone tries to read your entire research paper on a giant poster board!

Font

Your font needs to be legible and large enough for someone to be able to read the smallest text from 3-6 feet away.

Type

If your poster will be printed, select a serif font such as Times New Roman. If your poster will remain digital, select a sans serif font such as Arial. The small embellished strokes that appear on serif fonts make it easier to read lengthy amounts of printed text but can strain your eyes if read for an extended period of time on a digital device.

Size

Here are some suggested font sizes for the different elements on your poster:

  • Title: 72 pt. | Bold | ALL CAPS or Title Case | Sans Serif (Arial)
  • Authors' Names: 48 or 36 pt. | Bold | Title Case | Serif (Times New Roman)
  • Section Headings: 28 pt. | Bold | Title Case | Serif (Times New Roman)
  • Text: 24 pt. | Not Bold | Sentence case | Serif (Times New Roman)

Sources

Knisely, K. (2013). A student handbook for writing in biology (4th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Moon Library. (2019, May 15). Poster design. Retrieved September 12, 2019, from https://libguides.esf.edu/posters

What kind of images should I include on my poster?

Make sure that all images, charts, graphs, etc. are relevant to your research. They should clearly communicate your data and enhance your presentation, not distract from it. If you have three-dimensional data, then use a three-dimensional graph; otherwise, avoid using 3D models to prevent confusion.

If you use frames or borders to help offset your text or images, keep them to a minimum.

Where do I find images to include on my poster?

Most of us probably use Google Images or another search engine to find images, but you don't want to take someone else's image and put it on your poster without getting permission first. Thankfully, there are several open access resources out there that allow you to freely use their images--just make sure that you still cite where you get the image from. Here are a few websites where you can start looking for images to use:

Only include images that you have permission to use, and give proper credit to their creator by including them in your References section! This includes yourself. If you create a chart, graph, etc. to accompany your data, give yourself credit for it! You took the time to make it, after all. Be proud; show off your work!

Beware of Pixelation

Have you ever tried making a small image larger? What happens to it? It starts getting grainy/fuzzy and becomes difficult to see clearly. It can also happen when you make a large image smaller. There just aren't enough pixels to show all of the details as it becomes smaller and smaller, so it doesn't look like a complete picture.

If you've spent the time to design a research project, analyze the results, and create a poster to display your conclusions, don't ruin it with a blurry image. Find appropriately-sized images that won't need to be shrunk or enlarged to look good on your poster. It also helps for them to be in full color and not black-and-white, unless there's a specific reason why a grainy black-and-white image would be relevant to your research.

Sources

Knisely, K. (2013). A student handbook for writing in biology (4th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Moon Library. (2019, May 15). Poster design. Retrieved September 12, 2019, from https://libguides.esf.edu/posters

Dearborn, D., MacDade, L., Robinson, S., Fink, A. D., & Fink, M. (n.d.). Offspring development mode and the evolution of brood parasitism: The thorny case of Coccyzus cuckoos [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://knisely5e.sinauer.com/poster.html

Jacob, R., Kobilis, J., & Reeder, DA. (n.d.). The relationship between hibernation temperature and immune competence in big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://knisely5e.sinauer.com/poster.html

Schoenfeld, D. A., K├╝ffner, R. Macklin, E. A., Ennist, D. L., Moore, D. H., Zach, N., & Atassi, N. (2016, December 22). The proper use of historical controls in ALS trials [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://f1000research.com/posters/5-2904

How do I present my poster?

First of all, please don't read what's clearly written on your poster!

People will automatically read the text that's on your poster during your presentation, so don't repeat word-for-word what they can read for themselves. Since people should be able to read/understand your poster in under a minute, reading it verbatim wouldn't even give you enough information to last a five-minute presentation.

If it takes you five minutes to read your poster, then you have too much text and should rethink the design!

Make sure that you prepare for your presentation, not just with the details and additional content that you want to expand on but also with answers to potential questions that others might ask. Refer to your poster's visuals during your presentation to enhance the data that you've collected and conclusions you've drawn from your research.

Sources

Knisely, K. (2013). A student handbook for writing in biology (4th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Moon Library. (2019, May 15). Poster design. Retrieved September 12, 2019, from https://libguides.esf.edu/posters