Friday, June 12, 2009

Scientific Posters: Part deaux

First, the photo at right is from my Louisiana Swamp Tour. He is Big Al, ~13' long and the dominant gator in the Honey Island Swamp. We saw him grab another gator by the tail and toss him 5 feet away. Don't mess with Al...

So you have finished the title and authors for your poster. Now on to the entree, the body of the work. Your poster should be organized into sections like a paper: Introduction, Methods, Results, and Conclusions. Optional sections are references, acknowledgements, and contact information.

For a paper, only the most important results are shown in graphic form; in a poster, anything that can be demonstrated in graphic form should be done that way. I guarantee you will remember the photo of Big Al longer than you recall anything else in this post!

Don't use paragraphs of text. Bullet points, like on a slide, are preferred. There is a scientific basis for this- people can typically read ~65 characters without scanning across a line. Columns of text shouldn't be wider than this, or your viewers can get lost!

Font selection is important, but the "rules" aren't as hard and fast as some would have you believe. Arial is not the only option!
  • Sans serif fonts (like Arial or Helvetica) facilitate individual letter recognition
  • Serif fonts (like Times) help pull words together and may be easier to read for sentences or bullet points (and especially for documents like manuscripts and grants)
  • Avoid "cute" fonts; you lose credibility!
The smallest text on a poster should be at least 5mm in height. This translates to 16pt, and is a good size for captions or other details. Important text in the "meat" of the poster should be 20-24pt.

I usually don't include a bibliography on my posters, but I do acknowledge grant funding and provide contact information. The latter is especially important for people who may view your poster when you are elsewhere! If they want to invite you to speak at their place, they can jot an email into their address book and catch up with you later!

Many organizations "require" that a copy of your abstract be on your poster. I have never seen anyone police their posters this closely, the abstract is a block of text that is hard to read, and the meeting participants have access to the abstract elsewhere. I often omit it from the actual poster. I format my posters to 3'x6' even though the standard poster board is 4'x8'. That way I can stick up a copy of the abstract along side the poster, or a few business cards. I can also stand near my poster without blocking it.

Next post: guidelines for (hu)manning your poster.

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