How to create an academic poster

Summary

  • An academic poster can be a powerful promotional tool for your research. So, make the most of the space you’re given.
  • A good poster can help you to earn awards and recognition amongst your peers.
  • Knowing your audience will allow you to create an effective poster that will help to get your work noticed.
  • Create something with the right balance of text and images. Remember that a picture paints a thousand words.
  • Remember to proofread and edit your academic poster before printing. Having a poorly written poster will get you noticed for all of the wrong reasons.
Academic poster award.
Winning an academic poster award was one of the highlights of my academic career. I felt like my hard work was paying off and the recognition from my peers gave me renewed vigour.

The academic poster

An academic poster is a popular way for researchers to present their work to their peers. Usually, academic posters are put on display at academic conferences. To learn more about academic conferences and what happens at these events then check out my blog ‘A guide to the academic conference’. The idea is to convey your research in a concise manner. Typically, this is done with a combination of text and images. Some recommend that the poster word count should be between 300-600 words, but I’ve personally created a poster with almost 1,400 words which went on to win a prize. Either way, a good poster should captivate the attention of the audience and inform them quickly. How quick? Quick enough so that they don’t get bored and move on.

Why create one?

An academic poster is a great tool for promoting your research. A good poster will grab the attention of an audience, inform them and generate interest. To do this, it must be concise and have the right balance of text, images, colour and all the other ingredients that go into making an award-winning poster. Moreover, creating such a great academic poster will enable you to earn prizes and recognition amongst your peers.

The audience

This is a crucial thing to consider. The question to ask yourself is: how knowledgeable is the audience likely to be in my field? For example, one of the first academic posters I presented was at a conference attended by research students from various disciplines including History, Law, Engineering and so on. This goes back to my earlier point on informing your audience quickly. If someone reading your academic poster is a layperson and is confronted with technical jargon, they are likely to be overwhelmed and walk away. So, on this occasion, I had to adapt the language and tone down the technical jargon.

However, if you’re presenting your academic poster at an academic conference then chances are that you will have academics, researchers and students in attendance. So, it’s safe to assume they will have specialist knowledge in your field. In which case it would be suitable to use technical terminologies, abbreviations and symbols.

Contents

Of course, you must include important information about your research like your research aim, introduction, significant results, conclusions, acknowledgements and references. You need to convey all of this information in the form of text and images, but it has to be the right amount and right balance. Too much text and your audience will get bored. Too many images and your audience will be lost. Remember, you can always review other past award-winning academic posters to see how it can be done.

Important features of an academic poster

Size and orientation

Size and orientation of an academic poster is quite an important thing to know from the start. Normally, conference organisers reserve a space for you to display your poster. The space is limited. The last thing you want is to bring along an A0 academic poster only to realise there’s only enough space to display an A1 poster. On the other hand, it won’t be ideal to bring along an A1 academic poster to display alongside your peers’ A0-sized posters. Your poster will never stand out! Always check the poster requirements with the conference organiser. If you’re unfamiliar with page sizes you can visit this link for more information.

Another thing to think about is page orientation. You have two choices: portrait or landscape. But do double-check the academic poster requirements with the conference organiser. Once again, you’re going to be assigned a limited space that may not be able to accommodate an A0 academic poster with a landscape orientation.

Academic poster presented at the International Symposium on Metal-Hydrogen Systems 2012 in Kyoto, Japan.
I presented an academic poster at the International Symposium on Metal-Hydrogen Systems 2012 in Kyoto, Japan. My poster was A0-sized the other poster behind me was A1. Therefore, my poster had the advantage simply because it was larger.

Font

Your choice of font can also affect how much your audience will engage. So, pick a font that’s easy to read like Times New Roman or Arial. But try sticking to one single font or two at most. Also, use font effects like underlining and italics sparingly. Too much of these font effects can make reading your academic poster unnecessarily difficult.

Font size is critical. If it’s too small then your audience can’t read it. Using a 12-point font on an A0-sized academic poster to squeeze in as much text as possible can have a detrimental effect. Your poster should be easily read from a distance of around two metres. A good rule of thumb for font size is:

  • 85-point font for the title.
  • 36-point font for subheadings.
  • 24-point font for body text.
  • 18-point font for captions.

Organising your academic poster into distinct sections using text boxes, headings and subheadings will make your poster so much easier to read. Think of it from the reader’s perspective, reading an academic poster containing nothing but text is tiring on the eyes. You want your audience to absorb the information on your poster effortlessly.

Colour

Choosing the right colour scheme for your academic poster is quite essential. Perhaps your company or institution have a colour scheme of their own that you could use. If you’re unsure of what colours they have used you could use this colour palette by Canva. This colour palette allows you to upload an image and it will enable you to identify all of the colours present.

Try not to use all of the colours in the rainbow when designing your academic poster. This will likely distract your audience from the important stuff: your research. Limit your choice to two or maybe three colours at most.

How an academic poster is read

The audience will decide within seconds if they want to stay and read your academic poster or move on. A good poster will guide the reader through a logical sequence. Similar to research articles, a series of columns are commonly used in academic posters. Normally, posters utilising the English language are read from top to bottom and left to right.

A balance between text and images

It’s key to make your academic poster as reader-friendly as possible. Ideally, there has to be a good mix of text and images. Including 500 words of text with only one image can make your poster difficult to read. Strategic placement of images in your academic poster can help to break up the text making it so much more readable. Also, you can use blank spaces as well as images to help declutter your poster.

Imagery

A picture paints a thousand words. So, if you can design an image that can tell a thousand words then even better. Think of how much precious space you can save. Consider using graphs, charts and diagrams in your academic poster to explain certain concepts. If you are going to use images found online pay particular attention to the usage rights. You don’t want to land yourself in trouble because you didn’t seek the proper permission to use copyrighted material. To get around this you could just sketch your own diagrams. PowerPoint is deceptively versatile. I’ve managed to design some elaborate diagrams using this application.

Proofreading and editing

Always dedicate time to proofreading and editing your academic poster. It can be quite embarrassing when your audience corrects your spelling and grammar. More importantly, it can dramatically affect how well you convey your research to your peers. If your audience cannot understand what your academic poster is trying to tell them then it’s a waste of everyone’s time. I discuss at length the importance of proofreading and editing in my blog ‘Why is editing important?’. In this blog, I emphasise the importance of having a second pair of unbiased eyes checking your work.

The prize

At most academic conferences a prize is awarded for the best poster. A team of academics will be assigned the task of assessing every academic poster incognito. The prizes can be quite generous, but receiving recognition from your peers can be priceless. I recall the feeling I had when I won my first poster award. Whenever you feel that your work is going nowhere and your efforts are underappreciated, such an award can make it all worthwhile.

What do you think?

Do you think I’ve missed something? Do you need proofreading, editing, course designing, grant proposal writing or consultancy services? I’d love to hear from you. Get your free quote today!

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Naser Al-Mufachi
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