Preparing effective posters

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Preparing effective posters


General comments

A poster should be self-contained and self-explanatory, allowing readers to proceed on their own while leaving the author free to discuss points raised in inquiry. The poster session offers a more intimate forum for discussion than the slide presentation, but discussion becomes difficult if the author is obliged to devote most of the time explaining the poster to a succession of viewers. Remember that the time spent at each poster figure is determined by the viewer, not the author, as in the case of slide presentations.

An effective poster is neither a page-by-page printout of a journal paper nor a slide show, but balances figures and text.

Before the symposium

Planning and Layout.  SOM poster boards are ~7' wide and 4' high, but there is no need to utilize all that real estate. Consider organizing your illustrations and text using a grid plan, arranging materials in columns, which makes scanning your content simpler for the visitor. Place your most significant findings at eye level immediately below the title bar, and the supporting data and/or text in the lower panels. Columns for conventional, multi-panel posters can be formed using individual elements printed on letter wide paper with suitable spacing or borders. These may be mounted, in turn, on colored poster board. Consider grouping related sections or columns of the poster on backgrounds of the same color. Background colors should be muted or neutral. Single sheet posters can be made, though they can cost several hundred dollars.  At the fall symposium, it's how you present the material, rather than how professional it looks.

Title.  The banner should indicate the title, author(s), and affiliation(s). Lettering should be at least one inch high.

Illustrations.  Figures should be designed to be viewed from a distance, using clear, visible graphics and large type. Color can be effective if used sparingly; use saturated dark colors on white or pale backgrounds and rich, light colors on dark backgrounds. Although each figure should illustrate no more than one or two major points, figures need not be simple. The main points should be clear without extended viewing, but detail can be included for the aficionado. The sequence of illustrations should be indicated with numbers or letters at least one inch high.

Text.  Each figure or table should have a heading of one or two lines in large type stating the "take-home" message. Additional essential information should be provided below in a legend set in 16 point or larger type. Minimize narrative:  text that would normally appear in the body of a manuscript can be integrated in figure legends. It should describe concisely both the content of the figure and the conclusions that are derived. Details of methodology should be brief and should be placed at the end of each legend. Use large type in short, separated paragraphs with left-justified margins. Numbered or bulleted lists are effective ways to convey a series of points. Do not set entire paragraphs in upper case or boldface. An introduction should be placed at the upper left and a conclusion at the lower right, both in large type. Do not post your abstract, since it will be published in the program.

At the session

At least fifteen minutes prior to the start of your session, post your materials on the board and leave them in place for the full symposium. (Poster boards will be set up the morning of the symposium.)  Push-pins will be provided in the area. You should be present at your poster during the dedicated poster sessions to field questions.


Original document written by W. Shawn Carbonell, adapted from