One kind of academic writing that involves far more visual consideration than essays and articles is the poster display. Along with the orally delivered conference paper, the poster display is a common way of presenting research results at conferences. Poster sessions are also used on some university courses as an alternative to essays or written exams.
In some respects, writing a poster text resembles article writing; many posters are presented according to the IMRaD format with an Introduction - Method - Results - Discussion structure. Of these, the Introduction and Results sections are generally the most important ones for the poster presentation. The poster writer thus faces the same challenges as the article writer in some respects:
- The title needs to be attractive
- The text structure must be logical
- The argument has to be convincing
A poster is not an article
Whereas conference (paper) presentations demand a certain command of oral presentation technique, the requirements placed on poster presentations include visual aspects of the scientific results that are to be presented, as well as good writing skills. First and foremost, the poster must grab the reader's attention.
At large conferences, there may be hundreds of posters exhibited in large rooms, and a poorly presented poster will not receive much attention. Therefore, your poster texts need to be short and to the point, and your visual material must be well chosen and presented in order to enhance the argument and results you wish to communicate.
Clarity is central for the layout and overall design. Although there are different ways of presenting scientific results graphically and although contents and individual preferences may, of course, to some extent determine the design of a poster, there are some general issues that should be taken into consideration.
Create a layout that is intuitive to the reader
The progression of the material presented in the poster must be clear; often poster texts are arranged either from left to right or from top to bottom, sometimes in columns. Different sections of the poster can be numbered or the reader can be guided by arrows or some other feature from one section to the next.
Make sure your text is easy to read
Your title and overall design must be clear to the reader at a distance of 2-3 metres. Choose an easy-to-read typeface and remember that a text in only capital letters is difficult to read. Aim for a title that is not too long or complex, and make sure all authors' names and affiliation(s) are clearly stated on the poster, as well as the name of any funding body, of relevant.
Balance text and illustrations
Aim to keep texts short and to the point. A poster should not be a display of text pages but should highlight and display vital and interesting results. It is better to write brief statements than long descriptive or argumentative texts. Concerning illustrations, aim for easily comprehensible graphic materials rather than illustrations that require explanatory texts. Too many colours and patterns will distract readers, as will too many pieces of separate text.
Making your poster
The advice below focuses on aspects of poster production that are connected with writing.
Start by reviewing guidelines provided by the conference organizer. Also consider what kind of conference and poster session you are writing for. Is it a large conference covering several specialisations within your discipline or can you expect your audience to be familiar with your particular field?
Here we provide information on words often used in writing instructions:
Find your focus
Similarly to paper or article writing, you need a clear focus for your poster:
- What have you discovered?
- Have you developed a new method?
- Will you present new data?
With the limited space available, it is thus important to not try to bring up too many things. Although there may be room for some brief background information, the main focus of your poster should be on the new knowledge that you wish to share.
Presenting a poster
At many conferences, there are both oral presentations (often referred to as papers or talks) and poster presentations. Sometimes conference papers are also presented as posters, but more often, conferences offer separate options for presentation.
In some conferences, posters are accompanied by short oral presentations often referred to as poster sessions.