Preparation of Scientific Posters: A Guideline

A scientific poster promotes personal contact and a fruitful exchange of ideas between the presenter and the people reading the poster. Needless to say, posters should be not only eye-catching but also scientifically accurate. The principal aim of a poster is to outline a piece of work in a form that is easily assimilated and stimulates interest and discussion. However, one need not be disappointed if readers do not stop to discuss. A properly prepared poster will at least have given useful information and food for thought.

A tastefully laid out poster with right amalgamation of text, color and figures can do wonders in getting all the needed attention. However, it is very important to bear in mind that nothing is overdone. The most appealing advantage of a poster is that it can be displayed in your department after the conference.

Gone are the days where a poster making involved a lot of cut and paste in a real sense, using scissors and glue. Even though the cut and paste is still in vogue, it is now more a computational task. With a plethora of tools available, its relatively easy, especially the printing part. Unfortunately, there are still no short cuts for all the thinking one needs to do to what to put on the poster. Or rather, what not to put! Given below are some suggestions and general guidelines followed by some examples for preparing a eye-catching poster.

  1. Suggestions and Guidelines
  2. Using Powerpoint
  3. Some Examples
  4. Printing the Poster

Suggestions & Guidelines

  1. Plan, plan and plan! Laying a dummy layout with a paper and pencil is still the best way to start. Do it several times until you are satisfied.
  2. A poster should be able stand on its own. The poster should act as bait to capture the interests of the delegates. A summary with an illustrative material arranged in a right manner will ensure this.
  3. Good Science will always remain the principal ingredient.
  4. Deciding on the content : Answers to these questions define the type of content to include and set the tone of the presentation.
    • What are you trying to achieve by presenting the poster? Is it to tell what you have done? Is it about a new discovery? Is it to convince the delegates that one methodology is better than another?
    • Who is your audience? What is the level of their knowledge of your subject area?
  5. To prepare the poster use any tools you are comfortable with. I find the Microsoft Powerpoint the easiest and the best way.
  6. The poster should conform to the size restrictions imposed by the conference organizers. Be sure to check with the organizers about the size specifications. In any case, 36 X 48 inches, 36 X 56 inches or 36 X 72 inches (powerpoint doesn't support 72 inches) are the popular sizes. Remember, you cannot use 36 X72 if you are using powerpoint. A landscape layout is more popular and is easy to read even though posters in portrait format can also be done.
  7. The title banner should have the title (letter size: 25-40 mm), authors' names (letter size: 20-25 mm), and institution or organization (letter size: 20-25 mm) and a logo of the institute.
  8. Two layouts are possible: horizontal or landscape (reading across the rows) and vertical or portrait (reading down the columns). While the horizontal ordering is perhaps more natural, it has the major disadvantage of requiring the reader to move to and fro along the poster; if there are many readers, congestion can result. A vertical ordering is therefore preferable, although other possibilities should be considered as well. If you are comparing three methods, for example, you could display them in parallel form, in three rows or columns, perhaps as a display within a display. If there is any doubt about the order in which the sheets should be read, number the sheets clearly or connect them with arrows for guidance
  9. Simplicity is the key. Keeping the text to a minimum is the basic rule. A poster should never be a standard paper in words with large chunks of text. Always make sure that your poster narrates a captivating research story. Use copious figures. Many a times your methodology can be represented as a simple schematic diagram. Remember the old adage, a picture is worth 1000 words (but only if it is drawn properly and used appropriately)! Charts and graphs of your results are especially helpful, but only if they are clear and neat. Label figures and tables appropriately so that someone not familiar with your study can understand them. Limit your text to help interpretation. A typical reader may spend only a few minutes looking at the poster, so its very important that there is a minimum of clutter and a maximum of pithy, informative statements and attractive, enlightening figures. Include a statement of the problem, a description of methodology, results and a summary. Though these appear as any conventional manuscript pattern, there is lots of scope for ingenuity. Again, resist the temptation for large paragraphs of text. Use short paragraphs, or bulleted text.
  10. Spell check!
  11. Avoid extremes of decoration. The color should call attention to the content, not obscure it. Be professional and neat in your presentation. Use colors sparingly and with taste. Colors should be used only to emphasize, differentiate and to add interest. Do not use colors just to impress! Avoid using bright garish colors like bright green, pink, red or lilac. Choose background and foreground color combinations that have high contrast and complement each other - black or dark blue on white or very light grey is good. It is better to keep the background light as people are used to it (for example newspapers and books). Keep the background of your poster always light. Nothing beats the plain or the white background. You will also be saving on your printer cartridges. Avoid the use of gradient fills. They look great on a computer display, but the paper version can be disappointing..
  12. One of the secrets of a good poster is having plenty of white space. Do not clutter your poster with too much data, even if they are figures. It will leave your audience confused and lost. So, resist the temptation to fill up every inch of your poster space. If you think your poster is not justified without adding all the text, prepare some hand-outs for distribution.
  13. Never enlarge your images in powerpoint. The 360 dpi resolution or higher works out best.
  14. Review, review and review! Make draft versions of your poster sections and check them for mistakes legibility and inconsistency in style. Try different layout arrangements. Ask your partner, friends, colleagues or supervisor for their 'honest' opinions. Be critical.


Creating a Poster with Microsoft PowerPoint

A simple way of creating a poster in Powerpoint is, treat your Poster as a single large slide with page settings as 36 X 48 inches, 36 X 56 inches or any other prescribed size. Treat each of your sections and figures as miniature slides on this.

  1. Start PowerPoint: Make a New presentation - a blank one. When asked for a Layout, choose a blank one - one without anything - even a title. Alternatively, load any of the example powerpoint files given below after saving them on your system.
  2. Choose the size of your poster: We can print 36 X 48 up to 36 X 72 inches. Set the size by using the File menu/Page Setup.
  3. Adding text: In order to add text, the text needs a "container" a Text Box. Make a text box by
    • Clicking on the Text Box tool or selecting Text Box under the Insert menu. (PowerPoint is very flexible in how its tools are arranged. The down side of that is that your tools may be in a different place than they are described here. The Text Box tool is often found near the bottom center - it looks like a mini page with an "A" in the upper-left part of it.)
    • Click or click-and-drag where you want the text to be. After this second step, you should see the rectangular shape of the Text Box. You can re-size it at any time by dragging one of the little square "handles". The box will also grow automatically as you type (if it needs to). As in many programs, you can change the font and size by highlighting the text to be changed and then making the changes. To move a Text Box, position your pointer over a part of the edge of the box that is not a handle. The pointer should become shaped like a plus sign with arrows. Click and drag the Text Box to the wanted position. You can change the color of the text, the edge, and the fill as well as other things under the Format menu/Text Box. Make a separate Text Box for each separate piece of text. "Separate text" means a portion of text that you want to be able to move independently from the others.
  4. Adding images: The two ways to add images are with Insert/Picture and with Copy and Paste:
    • Insert/Picture: This is the most common way of adding graphics to a PowerPoint document. If you have a file that is in one of several standard graphic formats (like JPEG, GIF, etc.), use the Insert menu/Picture/From-file and select your file. The image will appear on your document with handles. Use one of the corner handles to re-size it. (The corner handles will keep the same aspect ratio; the side handles will not.) Click and drag in the middle of the graphic to move it. You can do many other things to an image (including brightness, cropping, and resetting it to how it was originally brought in) under Format/Picture.
    • Copy and Paste: Use this if you have something like an Excel graph you want to add to your document. Generally avoid this method if you can - Copy and Paste will often only give you a low-resolution copy of a graphic.
  5. Background: You can select a background under the Format menu/Background. If you want a picture background, just use Insert/Picture and place it Behind everything else. Be careful of using too big of an image - large files can become cumbersome to work with.
  6. Lines, Boxes, Arrows: There are many other things that PowerPoint can do. Next to the Text Box tool are tools to make ovals, boxes, lines, arrows, etc. When you have made one of these, you can change it (when it is selected) with the Format menu/Colors and Lines.
  7. Zoom: You can control the zoom amount by clicking on the zoom choice box (if visible), or using the View menu/Zoom. This option only effects the screen view - not the printout.
  8. Using the Examples
    • Start PowerPoint and load any of the example powerpoint files given below after saving them on your system.
    • Edit the files (replace the text, insert your own figures, graphs, etc.). You can move the text boxes and align them as per your requirements. I need to remind you again that these serve as just guidelines. They are mainly to give you an idea how much the font size should be or what image resolution works out to be best.
    • Once you are done with the poster, print a proof on your local printer. Make sure to opt for "fit" option.
  9. Finally, before printing it on the plotter. Check for typos. Let your colleagues go through them (you will realize how blind we can be when it comes to our own errors!). Also check for the undeleted text boxes which might be partially "hidden" behind other text boxes or images.


Some Examples

Printing your Poster

Once you are satisfied with your poster go ahead for printing. Before printing on the Plotter, as I mentioned earlier its always a good idea to print a proof on your local printer. Even though you cannot actually read anything on this print, you can see any errors with regards to the overall layout.


Author: Anil Jegga

Adapted in part from "A Personal Guide to Improving Microscopy Posters" by R. Coleman, Royal Microscopical Society Proceedings, Vol. 29, Part I, January 1994, pp. 18-19.

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This profile last updated on June 27, 2002