Construct a Research Poster

A good poster, like a good conference presentation, tells a story. Its layout is organized and logical. Simple, uncluttered design highlights research rather than obscuring it, and a clear narrative guides the reader.

Consider your message (what is interesting and important about your research) and why others might be interested in your research. Thinking about this when you begin designing your poster will help you select information and edit. The research poster follows the same standard format as a research paper.

The major sections may include:

  • Abstract/Introduction/Background
  • Methods & Materials (Social Sciences, Sciences) or Images and Illustrations (Arts & Humanities)
  • Results
  • Discussion/Conclusions
  • Implications/Further Work
  • Acknowledgements
  • References

Limit Text

As you can see, posters often follow a format similar to a research paper, but do not attempt to write your paper into your poster! The average reader will spend three to five minutes reading your poster—no more.

The text you select to tell your story must be brief and to the point. Here are a few guidelines to help you edit:

  • Chunk information into bullets, lists, or short paragraphs.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Simplify language.
  • Use bold and italics sparingly to judiciously emphasize the most important points. Never underline.

Focused editing will help you get your message across. Compare the following excerpts from a research poster:

This research aims to examine whether a subtle reminder of power differentials increases the probability that a person will use racial stereotypes when making criminal judgments.

At 26 words, the aim of the research is difficult to understand. Compare that example to the following, at just 9 words:

Power primes lead to increased stereotyping in criminal judgments.

Like simple prose, uncluttered design will highlight your research.

Unify Your Design

Design can make or break a research poster. Too much color, shading, and uneven margins distract the reader rather than draw attention to the star of your poster—the research. Simple, uncluttered design is easy to achieve with a few guidelines:

  • Use a 3 or 4 column layout, and flow your design from top to bottom and left to right.
  • Use clear headings to organize your poster and help your reader find what they're looking for. Most poster audiences will not read the entire poster, but instead focus on your Results or Discussion.
  • Balance text and figures. Having one side predominantly text and the other primarily image causes a lop-sided look.
  • It's usually best to use a light, neutral background color with dark text. Use additional colors sparingly, one or two colors for accent. Ask colleagues if they think the colors you've chosen work together.
  • Margins should be even, with plenty of space between boxes.
  • Posters should have 30–40% white space, less than 25% text, and 30–50% images and figures. Posters with too much text overwhelm the viewer with the amount of information.
  • Use images and figures rather than text to convey concepts, designs, models, relationships, and trends. Make sure your images and figures are labeled clearly. Your audience will appreciate it.

Font choices contribute greatly to the overall aesthetic of your poster. When selecting fonts, keep the following in mind:

  • Use fonts that are easy to read—Arial or Times New Roman—and avoid using drop shadows on your fonts or figures.
  • Use font size appropriate for the information you’re providing: the title should be legible from 20 feet away (36–40-point font); the text of the poster from 5 feet away (20–24 point font).
  • You may want to use one font style for your body text and another for captions and labels. Avoid using more than two font styles however, as that muddles the design.