7 tips for creating a scientific poster

Jaime Van Loon and Ninoschka D’Souza • Posted: April 25, 2022

With the annual Canadian Glycomics Symposium coming up on May 11-13th, we thought it would be the perfect time to provide some general tips for improving the readability and intrigue of your scientific posters.

1. Limit the number of words on your poster.

▹ In general, it is best to avoid large sections of small text. On their own, the figures of your poster should be able to tell a coherent story. The text is only meant to provide additional details that might be of interest to the reader.

2. Write strong heading titles that draw in the reader.

▹ As is true for any piece of scientific literature, the titles of your poster can help lure in the reader and entice them to read about your results or ask you questions about your work. Instead of having a section labelled as “Results,” try coming up with a short title that summarizes your result section such as “Substrate A binding affects cell motility.”

▹ Example: which title below sounds the most exciting to read?

3. Be consistent in your formatting.

▹ Having a clean and consistent poster can make all the difference. For example, try to stick to one font theme, the same font size for figure cations, the same size column widths throughout, and try to make the figures in a similar style and/or size relative to each other.

4. Use an M-shaped reading order.

▹ It is important to lay out your headings in a way that flows logically to optimize the way a viewer will read through your poster. The M-shaped reading order helps the viewer read in the familiar way that they would read a newspaper (i.e., one vertical column at a time).

▹ Example: you would read this poster in the order of the red arrows.

5. Don’t choose a busy background.

▹ Posters at conferences are printed and hung up for attendees to view them. So, when choosing a background, it is important to consider how easy it is to read the text or view the images from a distance. Keeping a white background behind your figures is an easy way to ensure that the data on your poster is clear.

▹ Example: choosing a gradient, coloured background is preferred to choosing a patterned background in this scenario.

6. Include a final model, figure, or table that concludes your findings.

▹ Having a final model, figure, or table to summarize your poster will be very useful for driving home the results you’ve gathered for your project. A final representation of your work may be hard to portray, especially if your project is still underway. But even a short list of your findings or your immediate future directions can go a long way.

▹ Example: including the figure below would be preferred to writing these results in a paragraph.


7. Ask someone outside of your scientific field to review your poster.

▹ An easy way to determine if your poster is clear is to ask a friend or a family member (either one familiar with science or a non-scientist) to review your poster. You can ask them for feedback on whether the overall message is clear and for general formatting advice. This is also a nice way to share your work with your loved ones and to get used to explaining the results in your poster prior to the conference!

Making a scientific poster is not an easy task. While summarizing all the hard work you’ve put into your project in one single poster will be difficult and time consuming, it will be worth it in the end. Remember that your poster is simply a conversation starter. Ultimately, the attendees of any conference are most interested in making a new connection with you and learning about the experience you’ve had in developing your scientific story.

Further reading and references:

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