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Visual Design for Scientific Poster Presentations

Release Date: June 1, 2014
Category: Scientific Presentations
Author: Barbara V., Ph.D.

Poster presentations are a common way to communicate scientific research at conferences and scientific meetings; however, they differ from oral presentations and published articles. While they deliver the same high-quality science as other media, there are certain considerations that must be taken to make the research engaging and interesting to other scientists.

A Catchy Title

An interesting and engaging title is an excellent way to “sell” your research. This is the first part of the poster that is seen by attendees. The title should entice attendees to come and learn more about your research subject. For example, the title may suggest a novel finding or application, ask an interesting question, or define the scope of the study. Above all, keep the title short and broadly understandable. Don’t use acronyms that only a limited number of specialized researchers would understand. You want to appeal to a broad group of scientists. The title should be concise and compelling. Under the title, list the authors, authors’ affiliations, and presenting author’s email address.


The abstract for your poster is typically published in a conference abstract book or list, and attendees will often read your abstract to determine whether to visit your poster or not. Provide a background sentence that sets the stage for the work, followed by the primary objective of the research presented. The methods section should note the major tools, procedures, and/or experimental approach used (e.g., DNA sequencing, immunohistochemistry), followed by the results. The abstract should end with a conclusion statement that summarizes the results and how they fit in the context of the broad research topic. The exact abstract submitted for the meeting’s publication should be used on the poster itself. For ease of readability, these sections can be listed as bullets using large font size. For ease of readability, each section of the abstract can be listed as bullet points using a large font size.

Font Size and Appearance

Limit the amount of information on the poster; otherwise, the text font size may need to be reduced, making it difficult to view from a distance and cumbersome to read in a crowd of people, which can discourage attendees from viewing your poster. Typically, a minimum 20- to 24-point font should be the smallest used to ensure the main points can be read at eye level. Bullets are very helpful to organize material, to tell a story, and to provide a synopsis for the audience. A poster’s format requires you to summarize the work, yet not lose the important points, main message, or logical flow.

Distribution of Content

After the title and abstract, background information should be provided to set the stage of the presented research. This context will help to engage people who are only narrowly knowledgeable in your scientific field, so make these points broadly understandable.

An objective statement will allow attendees to easily see your main goal.

Bulleted materials and methods can be presented or referenced under the presented results (e.g., tables, graphs) or in a separate section.

Presentation of the results can beis usually the most interesting part of a poster. If possible, use a variety of charts, graphs, and table styles, using color as much as possible. Photographs arecan also quite effective in enticingeffectively entice interested attendees and simplifyingsimplify complex data into a coherent and convincing story. List one of the main results (from your abstract) and show the supporting graphs/tables/charts/photos underneath. One carefully produced chart or graph often says more than hundreds of words. Do the same for the other results to break up the visual field. Figures can be viewed in both overall and detailed ways. For example, a large pie chart might have bold areas of color, indicating contributions from different categories, and smaller text in a table might provide additional details for interested viewers. Likewise, a graph could provide a bold trend line (with its interpretation clearly and concisely stated), and also have many detailed points with error bars.

Bulleted conclusions can be provided after the results, followed by an abbreviated reference list.

Freely use white space; it is just as important for readability as the design/layout of the poster and the size of the text.

Everything on the poster should help convey the overall message of the research. The key to presenting an engaging poster is to keep the points concise, which is particularly important due to space limitations.

Proofread your text for any errors, and make sure you line up the sections to be displayed in a balanced fashion.

Alternative Formats

An alternative way to visually present poster information is to arrange the conclusions following the abstract, which is where the audience may focus attention. If attendees become interested after viewing these conclusions, they are more likely to want to view the results and the rest of your poster.

Additional Points

Posters can also be used to distribute copies of associated papers, supplementary information, and other handouts. Posters allow you to be more speculative and even present ideas for future studies. Although most meetings have assigned times for the presenters to be in attendance at their posters, it is best to be present at your poster during all poster viewing times to explain or clarify different points, field questions, and network with potential collaborating scientists.

Some conferences display hundreds of posters, so you will need to fight for attention. The first visual impressions of your poster and your oral presentation when standing in front of your poster are crucial. One approach to effectively “sell” your research is to present an interesting question/study objective and thoroughly address the question, supported by your specific results.

Scientific Poster Example

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