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Advice/instructions for designing scientific posters

You will be creating a poster that focuses on an environmental issue. As you create the poster, be sure to address all
aspects of the issue with special attention to the science behind it.
Your poster should be 3 tall by 4 wide. For this class, the expectation is that you will do the bulk of the preparation
through Powerpoint, Illustrator, Publisher or other similar kind of program. It is easiest if you set the page size to be
36 tall by 48 wide. I think that I will be able to easily read all those formats, but if you have another program, you
can always submit things as pdfs or potentially some other electronic formats (maybe as tiff files, jpeg files, etc.)
Your poster should clearly indicate:
Your title (what is it you are trying to express to the audience)
Your names on the front (be proud of what you did)
Introduction (give a context for what you are talking about)
Information/discussions (Remember you should support your assertions with data!)
Conclusion / acknowledgements
Citations of data sources (remember some sources are more reliable and trustworthy)
Keep in mind how your poster will be viewed: it will be sitting alone in a hallways waiting to capture the attention of
students standing around waiting for the lab to be open (or a professor to show up at their office.) It might also catch
the attention of prospective students considering Briggs as a future home.
So check out the hallways and see what works and what doesnt. What draws your attention to a poster? Where does
your eye want to go? How long are you looking at it before you are thinking about the next one, or dinner, or ?
Figuring out how to be informative and interesting is the challenge of any poster. The following pages have quite a
few suggestions for how to achieve these goals. With a little work and some good planning you may create a
masterpiece that informs and enlightens the masses. (Heck, you can check out either of the posters that Dr. Sweeder
has that he created on display across from his office. I will point out that each of these went through at least 4-5
drafts and still could be improved. They both have a lot of text, but that is in part the nature of the project.)
A few guidelines:
Text size:
No text should be below 20 point font. This includes the pesky graph/figure labels.
Title should be 72-96 point with your names the same size or just a little smaller
The size for titles should be at least 44 point
The size for the bulk of the text should be at least 32 point (36 point would be better)
Background pictures should be used sparingly. Rarely do they print well (unless it is a high res
image) and it often makes it really difficult to read the text.
Background colors or patterns can be very helpful at making your poster pop and grab attention.
They are not necessary though (and if you are printing it at the library will likely make it more
Bullets are almost always better.
Provide useful titles/descriptions for figures or graphics. Almost always it is better to delete any title
that is a part of a graphic and create your own.

The poster will be graded following the LBC common rubric:

A fine example of communication:

1. has an appropriate and interesting TOPIC for the circumstances;
2. has a clear, and preferably original, specific POINT (also known as a THESIS);
3. provides adequate SUPPORT (REASONING and EVIDENCE) for that point;
4. is well ORGANIZED so that the audience can follow the points and examples;
6. is factually ACCURATE and also FAIR, including recognizing reasonable objections;
7. is presented in a way that is ENGAGING to the audience;
8. is of a REASONABLE SIZE for the circumstances (not too short or too long);
9. clearly CREDITS OTHERS when their ideas and words are used.
Poster (20 pts) (an additional 2 points will come from the actual presentation during the symposium.)
Topic/Argument (3 pts)
How well did the poster stay on topic?
Were you complete in your addressing of the issues?
Content (10 pts)
Science content errors (expect a -4 per conceptual error (bigger ones may be more.))\
Did you fully explain your topic? (Critical topics not addressed are a problem.)
Are your conclusions and logic sound? (probably a -4 for each bad conclusion)
Did you make it clear what the societal issues are? Do you make any recommendations (if appropriate)?
Professionalism (7 pts)
How good the overall impression that the poster presents?
Does the poster meet the requirements of the assignment?
Does the poster have an understandable flow?
Are all the materials cited appropriately?
Please DO NOT just include a giant web link. The purpose of citing material is to:
1) give credit where credit is due
2) allow the reader to easily look up the source if they so desire. Writing down a weblink
takes forever and if they miss one letter or number, they will never find the article.
Could I find the source?
See comment about not using web links above.
Can I evaluate the quality of the source from the reference? (This question is important in gauging if
Im going to believe your sources or not. If it is just a giant web link, I will assume that it came
from some random blog about cats. That is different from a peer-reviewed journal or one of the
data collecting departments in the government (NOAA, EPA, etc.))
Are all figures/graphs etc cited?

Additional issues:
Typos will be dealt with at a rate of -1 per incident (think of them as on par to math errors.)
Errors in formatting (not using superscripts/subscripts as appropriate for example) will typically be -1/ incident
(I will probably be generous on subscripts within superscripts and other similar issues that are a pain, but
be aware that using the equation editor in Word, you can address these issues.)
Please dont use 0 in place of O. Different keys, different meaning. Unit errors will run at a rate of -1/incident.

What Makes a Good Poster?

(find citation at the end.)
Please note that some of this will apply to you, somenot so much. There are some good ideas in here, but
some that may not be relevant due to the situation in which this poster will be used. This was designed for
scientific posters at research conferences.--Sweeder
A one-sentence overview of the poster concept
A scientific poster is a large document that can communicate your research at a scientific meeting, and is
composed of a short title, an introduction to your burning question, an overview of your trendy experimental
approach, your amazing results, some insightful discussion of aforementioned results, a listing of previously
published articles that are important to your research, and some brief acknowledgement of the tremendous
assistance and financial support conned from othersif all text is kept to a minimum, a person could fully read
your poster in under 10 minutes.
Why a poster is usually better than a talk
Although you could communicate all of the above via a 15-minute talk at the same meeting, presenting a poster
allows you to more personally interact with the people who are interested in your research, and can reach people
who might not be in your specific field of research. Posters are more efficient than a talk because they can be
viewed even while you are off napping, and especially desirable if you are terrible at giving talks. And once you
have produced a poster, you can easily take it to other conferences. If you don't like to travel far, or are broke,
many college and university science departments sponsor poster sessions that welcome students from nearby
institutions. For all of the above, session organizers typically have a "Best Poster Prize Committee," which
awards fame and often cold hard cash to deserving posters. And when you're ready to retire your poster from
active duty, you can hang it in your dorm room to impress your friends, or display it in your departmental
hallway so that faculty can show off your hard work to visitors for years to come. You can also submit your
final product to, which promises to keep a PDF version of your poster in perpetuity (for free) and
allows people to send you comments about your poster.
Motivational advice
The best general advice I can give a first-time poster constructor is to describe the circumstances in which a
poster will eventually be viewed: a hot, congested room filled with people who are there primarily to socialize,
not to look at posters. Because poster sessions are often concurrent with the (free) "wine and beer" session,
chaos is further increased by hundreds of uninhibited graduate students staggering around hitting on each other.
And it gets worse: meeting organizers will invariably sandwich your poster between two posters that are
infinitely more entertaining, such as "Teaching house cats to perform cold fusion" and "Mating preferences in
extraordinarily adorable red pandas." In such a situation, your poster must be interesting and visually slick if
you hope to attract viewers.
Unlike a manuscript, posters can adopt a variety of layouts depending on the form of charts and photographs.
As long as you maintain sufficient white space, keep column alignments logical, and provide clear cues to your
readers how they should "travel" through your poster elements, you can get creative. As an example (illustrated
below), perhaps you might want to demote the unimportant sections (that few people read) to the undesirable
real estate at the bottom portion of your poster, freeing up the right-hand column area for your stunning
Conclusions. This strategy might be especially valuable for portrait-style posters where the bottom part of the
paper almost touches the floor.

Poster layout with "unimportant" sections placed at the bottom (which is undesirable real estate).
What sections to include and what to put in them
Title: Should convey the "issue," the approach, and the system (organism); needs to be catchy in order to "reel
in" intoxicated passersby. [Maximum length: 1-2 lines.]
Abstract: Do not include an abstract on a poster!
Introduction: Get your viewer interested about the issue or question while using the absolute minimum of
background information and definitions (such things put a reader to sleep, which is dangerous if he or she is
standing). As an informational poster, you need to express why one should even care about this topic.
[Maximum length: approximately 200 words.]
Main Body: Clearly indicate both the positives (it cures cancer) and the negatives (by killing you instantly) of
your double edged chemical. Claims should be supported with evidence. Figures and tables can provide
excellent support, but be sure to indicate what the reader should note. Remember, that you are not going to be
standing next to your poster for a week straight when it is on display this fall (unless you had waaaay too many
Red Bulls.) Someone needs to be able to completely understand your poster without you there. [Maximum
length: approximately 400 words.]
Conclusions: You are the expert on this compound. What do you think? What does the balance of data
suggest? Based on the data, should this stuff be outlawed, or carefully controlled? [Maximum length:
approximately 300 words.]
Literature cited: Follow standard scientific format exactly (don't wing this!); random web sites and rumors you
heard at Starbucks are equally undesirable sources: find a journal article or trustworthy website (EPA may be
common here) that supports your needed fact. You should put the citations directly with any graphs, pictures
etc. that you stole from the web. [Maximum length: approximately 10 citations.]

Avoiding common mistakes

The number one mistake is to make your poster too long. Densely packed, high word-count posters are basically
manuscripts pasted onto a wall, and attract only those viewers who are for some reason excited by manuscripts
pasted onto walls (see biology posters for examples of this .) Posters with 800 words or less are ideal. For
those who feel that their experiment somehow warrants an exception to this brevity advice (i.e., "everyone"),
find a friend to help you edit, asking them, "What text, figure, or table could I possibly delete or modify?"
Format the title in "sentence case" (e.g., "Font abuse in inbred versus outbred populations of Homo sapiens).
Do not use title case (e.g., "Font Abuse in Inbred Versus Outbred Populations of Homo Sapiens") or all
styles completely obscure useful naming conventions that depend on font formatting (e.g., Latin binomials,
genes, alleles). A more general reason is that sentences formatted in sentence case and all caps have been shown
(by science!) to require a few extra milliseconds for brains to interpret. [Sweeder Note: Im usually happy
with the title case, just not all caps. That is evil.]
Do not "bullet" or otherwise punctuate section headers. The use of a larger font size for headers, coupled with a
simple bolded format, is sufficient for demarcating sections. You can also use colored boxes to help section
the poster.
The width of text boxes should be approximately 40 characters (on average: 11 words per line). Lines that are
shorter or longer are harder to read quickly (according to research!).
Avoid blocks of text longer than 5 sentences.
Whenever possible, use lists of sentences rather than blocks of text.
Graph titles are not appropriate for laboratory write-ups and manuscripts, but they are great for posters. Having
short, informative titles helps to lead the viewer more effortlessly through your poster.

Sample graph modified for poster presentations. This would be a terrible

graph for a manuscript, but title and illustrations (though juvenile) help
convey important information to the reader. Data are from the Gallup
If you can add miniature illustrations to any of your graphs (e.g., as above), do it! Visual additions help attract
and inform viewers much more effectively than text alone. Tables benefit from this trick as well.
Most graphing applications automatically give your graph an extremely annoying key that you should quickly
delete if you can directly label the different elements (as above). Interpreting keys is sometimes very difficult,
and you should do anything in your power to make your graphs easy on the brain.
Acronyms and other shorthands for genotypes, strains, and the like are great when talking to yourself but are
terrible for communicating with others. On your graphs, use general, descriptive terms that would make sense to

somebody who is not familiar with your research area. You can always add the strain ID in parenthesis:
"Control genotype (Col-0)".
Y-axis labels aligned horizontally are much, much easier to read, and should be used whenever space allows.
Viewers with hypertrophied, inflexible neck musculature will be especially appreciative.
All graphs should have axis labels formatted in "sentence case" (not in "Title Case" and not in "ALL CAPS").
Never give your graphs colored backgrounds or boxes. If your graphing program gives them to you
automatically, get rid of them, and curse the programmers as you do it.
Never display two-dimensional data in 3-D. Three-dimensional graphs look adorable but obscure true difference
among bar heights.
Make sure that details on graphs and photographs can be comfortably viewed from 6 feet away. A common
mistake is to assume that axes labels, figure legends, and numbers on axes are somehow exempt from font-size
guidelines. On the contrary, most viewers will read only your figures!
Presenting your poster
Do not refer to notes when explaining your poster.
Speak to your viewers as you explain your poster.
A typical poster visitor really, really appreciates a 1-sentence overview of why your research is interesting and
relevant. That's 1 sentence, not 5 minutes. A good way to deliver this sentence is to point at a figure. For
example, you might point to the illustration of the submerged hamster in your "Materials and methods" and say,
"I was interested in whether hamsters can mate underwater, which would be clearly adaptive if the ice caps
melted." Or, point to your favorite results graph and say, "I found that pairs of male and female hamsters didn't
mate underwater, but instead drowned within 25 seconds." Keep it general, and make it clear to the visitor why
you find the topic interesting. Get them hooked, instantly, on some unanswered question that they simply must
hear more about.
If visitor hasn't left or yawned, you might continue on to other figures. Point to specific parts of your poster
whenever possible so that viewers are aware of your progression. Don't point to text and read it.
Avoid vagueness such as "this figure shows our main result."
Keep a black pen and correction fluid in your pocket in case a viewer discovers an embarrassing tybo.
If more viewers arrive halfway into your spiel, finish the tour for the earlier arrivals first.
When in doubt about how to act at your poster, imagine that a viewer will be considering your application for a
job ten years into the future, or will be considering your graduate school application next week.
Thank your viewers for visiting. If they have stayed more than 4 minutes, you have succeeded. If they say,
"This is really interesting--I'll definitely come back later," you have failed.
Useful literature
Block, S. 1996. The DOs and DON'Ts of poster presentation. Biophysical Journal 71:3527-3529.
Briscoe, M.H. 1996. Preparing Scientific Illustrations: A Guide to Better Posters, Presentations, and
Publications, 2nd ed. Springer-Verlag, New York. [preview via Google Books]
Day, R.A. 2006. How To Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 6th ed. Oryx Press, Phoenix. [Amazon]
Keegan, D.A., and S.L. Bannister. 2003. Effect of colour coordination of attire with poster presentation on
poster popularity. Canadian Medical Association Journal 169:1291-1292.
Matthews, J.R., J.M. Bowen, and R.W. Matthews. 1996. Successful Science Writing: A Step-by-Step Guide for
the Biological and Medical Sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. [preview via Google Books]
Pechenik, J.A. 2007. A Short Guide to Writing about Biology, 6th edition. HarperCollins College Publishers,
New York. [Amazon]
Rigden, C. 1999. The eye of the beholderdesigning for colour-blind users. British Telecommunications
Engineering 17:2-6.
Tufte, E.R. 1983. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Graphics Press, Connecticut. [Amazon]
Wolcott, T.G. 1997. Mortal sins in poster presentations or, How to give the poster no one remembers.
Newsletter of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Fall:10-11.
Woolsey, J. D. 1989. Combating poster fatigue: how to use visual grammar and analysis to effect better visual
communications. Trends in Neurosciences 12:325-332.

Most of the above was swiped from Colin Purrington, Department of Biology, Swarthmore College and you can
find his entire instructions at: