Scientific Posters

Characteristics of a Scientific Poster

  1. Organized, clean, simple design. 
  2. Focused on one specific research topic that can be explained in 5-15 minutes.
  3. Contains a Title, Authors, Abstract, Introduction, Materials & Methods, Results, Discussion, References and Acknowledgements.
  4. Has four to ten high-resolution figures and/or tables that describe the research in detail.
  5. Contains minimal text, with figures and tables being the main focus.

Scientific Poster

A scientific poster (Fig.1) is an illustrated summary of research that scientists and engineers use to present their scientific discoveries to larger audiences.  A typical poster is printed on paper with dimensions of 36-inches (height) by 48-inches (width).    

Figure 1. Scientific Poster
completed scientific poster
Figure 1. Example of a scientific poster focused on human-wildlife interactions in Utah. The poster is organized into rows and columns. When printed on paper, the poster will be 36-inches (height) by 48-inches (width). Title, author names and institution are listed at the very top of the poster in large font. Abstract (top left), introduction (bottom left), materials and methods (second column), results (third column), discussion (forth column), references (bottom right). Notice that your eyes are naturally drawn to the poster’s figures and title. Note that the total word count (not including references) is approximately 1,000 words.

Posters are displayed at events such as symposiums, conferences and meetings to show new discoveries, new results and new information to scientists and engineers from different fields.  A large event can have hundreds of posters on display at one time with scientists and engineers standing beside their individual posters to showcase their research. A typical interaction between a poster presenter and an audience member will last 5-15 minutes.

Scientific posters are organized systematically into the following parts (or sections): Title, Authors, Abstract, Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Discussion, Acknowledgments and References (Table 1 and Fig. 2).  Organizing a poster in this manner allows the reader to quickly comprehend the major points of the research and to understand the significance of the work.  

Table 1. Characteristics of a Scientific Poster
table showing characteristics of a poster including poster section, word count, number of figures or tables, the figure or caption number of words

The most important parts of a scientific poster will likely be its figures and/or tables because these are what an audience will naturally focus their attention on.  The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is certainly true for scientific posters, and so it is very important for the poster’s author(s) to create informative figures that a reader can understand.  The “ideal” figure can be challenging to create.  Providing too much information in a figure will only serve to confuse the reader (or audience).   Provide too little information and the reader will be left with an incomplete understanding of the research.  Both situations should be avoided because they prevent a scientist from effectively communicating with their audience.  

Authors use different sizes of font for their poster text (Table 2).  The general rule is to use a font size that can be read from a distance of 3-feet (1 meter), which is the approximate distance that a person will stand when viewing a poster.  The largest fonts (e.g., 40-120 point font) will be used for the title, author list and institutions.  Section headings will use 30-40 point font.  Section text, table captions, figure captions and references will typically use 20-30 point font.  Font sizes smaller than about 20-points can be difficult for an audience to read and should only be used for the References and Acknowledgements sections (Table 2).  

Table 2. Poster Font Size and Style
table showing poster section names, font sizes and the possible styles
Table 2. Font styles shown in bold are typically used in posters. Font sizes smaller than 20 pt can be difficult for an audience to read and should be avoided for most poster sections.

A poster abstract contains all text (no figures, no tables) and appears at the beginning of the poster (Fig. 2).  An abstract is one paragraph containing 200-300 words in length.  The Introduction section (Fig. 2) appears after the abstract and typically contains 100-200 words of text, a figure(s) and/or table(s) and a caption for each figure and table consisting of 25-100 words for each caption.  The Material and Methods sections (Fig. 2) appears third and consists of 100-200 words of text, a figure(s) and/or table(s) and a caption for each figure and table consisting of 25-100 words for each caption.  This is followed by the Results section and Discussion section (Fig. 2).  Each of these sections contain 100-200 words of text, a figure(s) and/or table(s) and a caption for each figure and table consisting of 25-100 words for each caption. Sometimes these two parts of a poster are combined into one large section titled Results and Discussion.  Some posters contain a Conclusion section, which follows the Discussion section. The example shown is Figure 2 does not contain a Conclusion section.  The final parts of a poster are the References and Acknowledgements sections (Fig. 2). 

Figure 2. Parts of a Scientific Poster
graphic of a scientific poster naming each of the parts
Figure 2. Scientific posters are usually organized into nine distinct sections. These include: Title, Authors, Abstract, Introduction, Materials & Methods, Results, Discussion, Acknowledgments and References. The sections appear in the order shown above. Posters also contain several prominent figures and/or tables, which appear throughout the poster. A caption will accompany each figure and table.

An audience will focus most of their attention on the poster title, abstract, figures and tables.  Therefore, it is important to pay particular attention to these parts of a poster.  A general rule is that less text is best and a figure is worth a thousand words.  The text contained within a poster should be reserved for the most important information that a presenter wants to convey to their audience.  The rest of the information will be communicated to the audience verbally by the scientist during their presentation.  

Its very important for a scientist to thoroughly understand all the data and information contained within their poster so that they can effectively communicate the research to an audience both verbally (i.e., during their presentation) and visually (i.e., using the figures and tables contained within the poster).  It is also important that the References section of a poster contains a thorough summary of all publications pertinent to the research presented in the poster.  This way, if an audience member wants more information on a particular topic (e.g., instrument, technique, method, study site) the presenter can direct the audience to the publication(s) where more information can be found.             

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Scientific Posters: A Learner's Guide by Ella Weaver; Kylienne A. Shaul; Henry Griffy; and Brian H. Lower is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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