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5 tips for designing a winning scientific poster

Follow these guidelines for creating an effective, clear, and compelling poster.

A scientific poster offers an opportunity to showcase research and share data with an audience and can lead to important career connections and collaborations. The audience is often large, and the presentation is brief so it is important to create a poster that is clear and compelling, so the message is easily understood. Learn how to design a successful scientific poster below.

A scientific poster is a common way to share research findings and new discoveries with the scientific community and the public.  It allows the presenter to get a message across to a large audience online or in person at a scientific meeting or conference and is a way to summarize their research and tell their experimental story quickly and easily.  This is an opportunity to encourage further research in a particular field of study and nurture potential collaborations.  However, it does come with some constraints.  Space is limitedon a poster, so there is only a certain amount of information that can be included.  The author is not always present at the poster and able to speak to everyone or answer all questions.  Often there are also many people presenting posters at the same time.  So it is important to design a poster that is effective, clear, and compelling.  Don’t simply take your manuscript or journal article and try to convert this to a poster but instead choose the most important information and present it in a visually interesting and engaging way.  You want the audience to choose your poster to view, engage with you, and leave with the message you intend to convey.

When you are in a room with a large number of posters or online among a long list of other appealing contenders you want to draw the crowd to your poster.

Five tips to draw a crowd to your poster

It is important that you start working on the poster early.  Designing and putting together an award-winning scientific poster takes longer than expected and it’s important and helpful to get someone to review the poster before sending it to be printed. In addition, printing takes time, so take that into account when starting the process.  Be sure to double-check all of the requirements and specifications for the conference the poster is being presented at as these can be different for each one. Once you have these items in place you can now use the following tips to help design a good scientific poster:

  1. Develop a clear overall message and conclusions: Your poster should have a defined message that endorses your research.  When someone walks away from your poster, what information do you want them to leave with?  There should be a very clear, key take home message and your poster should communicate that message all on its own.  For poster presentations it is not uncommon for the presenter to be away from the poster or to have a group of people at the poster all at once.  It is important that the audience can read the poster and understand the conclusions easily on their own.   Don’t make the message or conclusions difficult to figure out.  They should be simple to find with little effort.
  2. Design appealing and concise figures: Another important aspect of a compelling poster are the figures.  All scientific posters will include figures of some type.  These should be easy to understand and accurate.  They should also be able to stand alone and not need any text other than the figure title and legend to understand their message and results.  It is important to select figures that illustrate the most important points of your research for the conclusions your poster is meant to convey.  Don’t make the poster too busy with too many figures.  The main goal with each figure you select should be to tie your content together to the overall message as well as draw interest to your poster. They should be placed on the poster to help generate visual interest and placed in a way that still allows the reader to easily follow the flow of information.
  3. Select an attractive and easy to follow layout: Finally one of the last recommendations for creating a winning poster is to make it attractive so that it will draw people to it.  Make people want to stop and read your poster by making sure it catches the interest of those passing by making all your hard work worthwhile.  Once you have selected your title and figures, developed your message, and polished the text you want to use, it is now time to put everything together to visually attract viewers.  There are a couple of things to consider while doing this.  It needs to translate well to online content as well as printed materials especially if it is enlarged to be printed as poster sized.  You want to be sure that nothing will look out of proportion or will be distorted if it is used online in a smaller format or once it is enlarged for printing.  In addition, you need to make it easy for the audience to follow the flow of information, so the arrangement of items on the poster is important.  Taking time to properly layout the poster is imperative at this final step.  Again, it is important to keep in mind the final goal of making it attractive and eye catching to draw the audience to your poster.
  4. Limit the amount of text: The amount of text used on a poster should be kept to a minimum as you want your poster to be visually appealing while still conveying enough information and giving a clear message. Less is more when designing a good scientific poster.  There is often a short amount of time for the audience to make their way through a long list of poster presentations, so it is important to still convey your message while not expecting your audience to spend too much time reading through a lot of text.  Also, someone should be able to look over the poster without the presenter there so the text should be clear and to the point.  This also means that you should limit the use of jargon and acronyms to allow it to be able to be a stand-alone element.  Even though your scientific poster is going to be viewed by experts in various fields, you should assume that acronyms and jargon are not going to be universally understood and may result in unnecessary confusion or questions, so it is best to avoid using these.
  5. Use a short but effective title: The title of the poster is the first thing that will be seen and in some cases is the only item that will be read or viewed. Often poster titles will be published ahead of time online or in a conference brochure, so you want your title to stand out.  In addition, there are usually many posters all lined up together in a large conference room, therefore, you want your poster to be prominent.  This means it is important to have a catchy and effective title that also tells the story of your poster.  Make the title exciting and informative to draw the audience to the poster.    Another piece of advice is to avoid using a long wordy title because when the title is long it is more likely to be passed by.  When time is limited and there are many posters to view, readers will quickly skim posters. Shorter titles are easier to process and will be more likely to grab attention.

Example of a scientific poster
Figure 1: Example of a scientific poster. This sample poster illustrates the use of the five tips provided to help develop a winning scientific poster.  It includes a clear message and conclusions section, appealing figures, attractive and easy to follow layout, limited amount of text, and contains a short and concise title.

When designed well, scientific posters can be an extremely effective way to share your research results (see Figure 1 above).   Of course, there are endless ways to create a unique and compelling poster. By keeping in mind these recommendations, you can increase engagement with your audience and expand visibility of your research. 

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Published Mar 12, 2024