First, a tangent. I very clearly remember my first poster. It was 1994, and I was a second year graduate student. Back then, at least in my field, no one made one piece posters. We used power point to print out a bunch of 8½ X 11 sheets, glued/taped them to construction paper, and pinned them to poster board. The night before I headed to Coronado, I was on the floor of the lab, laying out my poster sheets, and MEASURING to determine the exact # of inches needed between each so that they were perfectly equidistant. I don’t do that anymore.
But I still do obsess about how my poster looks. Because people notice, and you could have the most amazing data in the world, but if no one can read it, or can process it, they will never know. People walking through a room with 100+ posters aren't going to spend much time at each one. They are not going to read tons of words. So, either you cut back on the number of words and decide what's important, or they skim what you presented and they decide what's important.
How do you make your poster noticeable, easy to read, and memorable?
1. Clear and descriptive title. Have you ever been excited to read a poster and discovered the content didn't match the title? Make sure that your title clearly describes the work you present. Make it catchy if you can. I'm terrible at titles and generally go for straightforward rather than compelling titles. Either way, don't sacrifice clarity for creativity. And don't make it too long. If you want to craft a perfect title, here's an interesting article about creating powerful book titles.
2. Font size. If you are a traditionally aged graduate student, almost everyone at the conference will be older than you are. And so will their eyes. 12 point font size should be banished from posters. If you are supposed to read it sitting at a desk, you cannot read it standing at a poster peering between other people while balancing an hors d’oeuvres plate. I’d say never go below 24. But bigger is better. If you’re not sure, print out one slide of your poster, and see how far away you need to stand from it to see it. Now imagine someone with worse vision. And increase the size.
3. Bullets, not paragraphs. Save the paragraphs for the amazing manuscript you write based on the data in your poster. In your poster, use bullet points. Make each point as clear and succinct as possible. And then cut a few more words.
4. Break up points. Instead of listing 3 things within one sentence, use a bullet format. As an example:
Instead of this:
- The majority of past research on sexual behavior has predominantly focused on vaginal sex, on distinguishing adolescents who have had vaginal sex from those who have not had vaginal sex, and on preventing negative outcomes such as unwanted pregnancy and STIs.
- Past research on sexual behavior focuses on:
> vaginal sex
> distinguishing adolescents who have and have not had vaginal sex
> negative outcomes such as unwanted pregnancy and STIs.
5. Avoid filler words. Read through several times and think of all the words you can remove without changing the meaning.
6. Make everything as visual as possible. Instead of putting participant information in text, can you table it? Can you present a measure’s items in a table? Can you report percentages as a pie chart or bar graph? Even correlations can be presented as a bar graph, which is great for visually comparing the magnitude of associations.
7. No abstract needed. The poster itself is abbreviated, so say everything concisely and you don’t need to summarize it.
8. Use symbols when possible.
9. Dark text, light background. I haven’t recently seen definitive data to support this preference, but in general, I find it easier to read dark text on light background.
10. Ditch APA. Okay, not completely. I am rather obsessive when it comes to APA style (ask my students). That said, I throw away much of it when making a poster. You can have single spacing in your poster. You can use vertical lines in your tables to make them more readable. So, keep APA style for your poster’s references, but think about readability for the rest of it.
11. Clarity in methods. Make your methods section as clear and brief as possible. No need for sentences here – use lists, bullets, and tables.
12. Go beyond your findings in the discussion. Don’t simply summarize your findings in the discussion. Someone just read them literally 1 minute ago. Briefly link back to the prior studies you summarized, the theory you tested, and forward to the implications and next steps.
13. Have others proofread it. There’s no way you can catch everything by yourself. Your co-authors are also too close to the ideas and data (how many times has your adviser read your thesis?). So, ask someone else to proofread it for you.
14. Prepare for questions. Someone is going to ask “can you tell me what you found?” Have a pithy response ready.
Do you have any questions about how to design a poster? What other advice do you have for presenting a compelling poster at a conference?
The post Posters That People Will Read and Remember, first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s Blog on October 21, 2013.