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Scientists Explain What Makes a Great Scientific Poster

Photo by Yuya Tumai via Flickr

Are you struggling to make an incredible science poster? Unsure of where to begin? Scientific posters are an incredibly common form of communication – hardly limited to elemntary school presentations! This means that scientists, professors, and researchers all have experience in looking at posters and creating displays themselves. Over the years, the scientific community has honed the art of poster-making to – well, a science. Here is some of the most important advice the experts can give:

Questions to Ask

At its heart, every good science poster is a visual form of the abstract. The abstract, as you have no doubt seen on many papers and research reports, is a summary of a report which visualizes the scientific question asked and the results gathered. The abstract seeks to make sense of all the data learned so that anyone could read it and understand the results of the experiment. Your science display should seek the same result. If you have already written an abstract, use it as an outline for your poster. You should also ask yourself several key questions; after all, you are both the creator of the project and its observer:

What matters?: Do not let all your results confuse you. What is the most important part of your scientific study? What matters to both you and the wider world? It could be the answer to a simple question or a practical solution that can be applied to real problems. Find the heart of your research, and focus on that.

Who is the audience?: Are you presenting to other scientists? Then you can use technical terms and graphs without fear of boring people. But if your presentation is for kids, you need to simplify the language. Parents may require bold summaries. Business owners keep an eye on the end results. Casual viewers are impressed with a beautiful display.

Will your audience understand?: Now that you have your audience firmly in mind, ask what it will understand. Every graphic, every explanation that you create, needs to be clear to your viewers. Just because it makes sense to you does not mean it will make sense to them. Ask for input, and see all explanations through the eyes of others.

Is every image linked to an image, and vice-versa?: Do not strand images or graphics all by themselves. Provide descriptions for every image and visuals for every block of text.

Does your poster need to be self-explanatory?: How are you presenting your findings? Sometimes posters need to stand for themselves and be fully self-explanatory from beginning to end. Viewers should be able to follow your starting question, experiment, data, and conclusion without any outside help. Other posters are designed to accompany a speech. In this case, you should depend more on visuals and graphs that underline what you are saying.

Science Poster Do’s and Don’ts

Do:

  1. Draw out different arrangements to plan your display.
  2. Keep it simple. The best science displays are elegant and uncrowded. If you have a choice, err on the side of leaving information out.
  3. Use lots of visuals, but few actual photographs. They tend to be grainy and unhelpful.
  4. Contrast. Make colors simple, complementary, and above all easy to distinguish from each other.
  5. Create a leading, interesting title.

Don’t:

  1. Use lots of text. The more text, the more boring and distracting the poster will be.
  2. Worry about the details. You only need the essentials.
  3. Switch alignment without warning. Align visuals in expected patterns. Leave equal white spaces around your objects.
  4. Use strange fonts. Try Verdana, Arial, Serif – basic types easily read from a distance are best.
  5. Be afraid to experiment with single, vivid graphs or maps that tell your whole story in one picture.

Extra Tips on Displays

  • Start early. No good science poster is made in a single evening.
  • Software like Powerpoint, Illustrator, Photoshop, and other applications can make plotting out posts much easier.
  • Having trouble with too much text? Take a chapter from Twitter’s book and limit your characters, or use only 100 words per text section.
  • Make your hypothesis and conclusion simple and evident. Center all your other work around these two points.
  • You will probably have to resize objects to fit on your poster. Use proper proportions (typically by holding the shift key) to resize within the right proportions.

More Information

University of Delaware: Scientific Posters

Makesigns: Table of Contents

Buffalo Libraries: Poster Presentations

Bandwidth Online: How Do I Create an Effective Science Poster?

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