Your goal: create a poster that communicates your message in a visually interesting format, generates enthusiasm about your work, and helps you get the most out of your poster session! Posters should not just share information about your research, but also to draw viewers into a conversation. For a good overview of the steps to effective posters, view slides from the "Thinking Inside the Box" webinar. Here are some additional tips that can help you define your message and create a successful poster.

  • Start With the End in Mind—Know Your objective. Your first instinct may be to try to distill an existing paper or begin outlining your methods, analysis, results, conclusions, etc. Resist! A poster is not a mini-paper; it is an opportunity to engage a certain group in a discussion of your research. For now, forget about what will actually go on the poster. Think ahead to the poster session itself. What do you hope to achieve? Are you seeking feedback on your findings? Are you looking for help identifying your next research question? Are you hoping to identify a new collaborator? When the session is over, what will success look like?
  • You Talking to Me? Know Your Audience. The meeting at which the poster session will take place will give you a sense of the types of people who will be there. Are they generalists or specialists? Is it an interdisciplinary group? Understanding who you want to engage will help you make important decisions about which aspects of your research you should focus on, which can be placed on a handout or be left for another time.
  • What to Say. With a sense of your objective and audience, now focus on your message—that is, what it is you want to say to your intended audience in the service of your objective. Identify one-three key take-away messages about your research. These should describe why your research and your findings are important and perhaps what you hope others will do. If nothing else, what do you want your audience to remember about this poster and your research? If you have already written a paper, your abstract and you conclusions are a good place to look for these take-away messages. Write them down into concise, jargon-free statements. Now you are ready to begin building your poster.
  • A Picture = 1,000 Words (at least). Identify the one table, graph, chart, photograph or other visual element that best describes your message. Often we have several charts or table, but find ourselves spending most of the poster presentation focusing on just one graphic. Know which one that is and design from that visual element out. Enlarge your key graphic, give it a prominent place on the poster (center-top or center-right), then  design the poster around that visual. This will encourage viewers to focus their attention on the part of your research that really matters. 
  • Boldface—Use an interesting title and “What we learned” to carry your message. In addition to using a strong graphic, create a title that not only describes your research, but effectively communicates your message and entices the viewer into the poster. Perhaps most importantly, resist the temptation to place your conclusions or findings on the bottom right part of the poster where they are traditionally put. Create a “What We Learned” section in large type just under the title. That way, the casual viewer can see what the poster is all about from a safe distance (no one wants to get stuck spending time on the wrong poster). This will help viewers “get” your message and then make the determination about whether they want to stay and talk or move on.
  • Message your “talk” Often, we spend a great deal of time thinking about, designing and producing a poster, but forget to think about what we are going to say at the session itself. A poster is simply an informative visual aid, an information rich backdrop for what should be a series of energetic conversations. Once you have figured out your message, develop and practice a 15-30 second introduction that explains your research, why it is important, and what you found. If you have time, prepare and practice a 1-2 minute description of the research and its key details. Again, make sure you hit your key messages, and don’t forget to think about some leading questions you might ask a viewer to begin a conversation and prompt their interest in your work. 

The sample photos here are examples of poster templates; for more like this, go to posterbuzz.com

Additional Resources

The Poster Checklist is another resource developed by SCP to help you succeed in creating an effective poster. Use this once you've drafted your poster to ensure that it is message-driven and well-designed.

Creating Effective Poster Presentations, George Hess, Kathryn Tosney, Leon Liegel at North Carolina State University provide a helpful set of resources, including some interesting examples--even thoughts about abstract writing (though they, like us, feel that abstracts are redundant on posters and should only be used when required).

Advice from Colin Purrington, formerly at Swarthmore College, includes some helpful thinking—even dos and don’ts on poster wardrobe coordination! He also offers a one page poster summary.

Tips on Old-Fashioned Posters, from SCP, will give you helpful advice on how to use “old-school” 8 ½” x 11” sheets to create an effective poster—one that it easy to modify—and carry on airplanes!