Academic posters

Posters are an efficient way to communicate research and are a good way to get started with presenting at conferences.

This section covers:

Typical parts and order of a poster

In contrast to a journal article, you can present only a few main ideas on a poster. If you have more results, you can still talk to people about them. You can also print a handout of the poster content with the extra information included.

First, think about the audience – will readers mainly be in your field or from outside it? This will affect the kind of information you include in the poster; by identifying the audience, you can make sure that your poster caters for it.

The next step is to consider the main points you want to get across and to think about them in terms of the structure of the poster (which is similar to that of a journal article, but in a shortened form):

  • Title. Make this as short as possible but accessible to a broad audience. For example, the title could
    • ask a question (the question that you asked in the research)
    • say what the study was about
    • suggest that your research is novel (but it is best not to make claims such as being ‘the first’, in case it’s not!).

Substitution of first-row transition metals, M2+, into layered magnetic monoclinic manganese phosphorus trisulfide, MnPS3
Can we control the magnetic properties of layered magnetic materials?
[Tells the reader your higher-level aim.]

  • Author name(s) and affiliations. You may also wish to add acknowledgments.
  • Abstract or summary. After the title, this is probably the first (and possibly the only) part the reader will look at, so make it clear and concise to encourage readers to engage with the rest of the poster. State clearly what you set out to do, how you did it, what you found and what it means.
  • Introduction. State clearly the problem you were trying to solve, and the aims of the research.
  • Methods. Explain the techniques you used or the procedures you followed.
  • Results. Where possible, express your results using visual elements such as figures (photographs and graphs) and tables; use them to help the reader to understand your results.
  • Discussion. In as few words as possible, state what your findings mean and what avenues further research might take. The discussion can include your conclusions, or these can be a separate part of the poster. Many readers will look only at the abstract and conclusions, so these sections need to be very clear and concise.
  • References. Keep the list as short as possible.
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Planning a poster

Plan your poster before you start working on it. A good place to start is with the instructions about what is allowed (eg size).

Things to think about include:

  • how the poster will be displayed and how you plan to transport it – these will determine whether you make the poster on cardboard or foldable canvas, whether you laminate it, and so on
  • whether your poster will be judged at the conference – if so, get a copy of the judging criteria and use them in planning your poster
  • what elements to include
  • whether other people (eg designers and printers) need to be involved
  • whether your workplace has a template and how you want the poster to look overall
  • why you are displaying a poster – for example, to
    • find possible collaborators
    • tell people about techniques or resources they might use
    • showcase preliminary findings that are not sufficient for a full paper or presentation.
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Designing a poster

Someone walking past at a distance of a few metres should be able to look at the poster and decide whether they want to stop for a closer look. Therefore, the poster needs minimal text and a strong visual impact to draw in the viewer.

Use as little text as possible and present it clearly. To create clean, readable text:

  • use only initial capitals; do not write text, titles or headings in full capitals, which are hard to read and can be associated with shouting
  • use large enough font sizes – although the actual point size will depend on the font, styling (bold/light/condensed/italic), colour and contrast, a reasonable rule is to use no smaller than 20-point font; if in doubt, print it out and check that it can be read from a few metres away
  • use only 3 font sizes (large for the title, smaller for the headings and smallest for the body text).

To create visual impact:

  • use design elements, such as lines, boxes and colour, to emphasise points
  • use contrasting colours for background and foreground (eg black on white, dark blue on light grey); also remember that some people are colourblind, so avoid red–green or other colour combinations that will not be visible to this audience. Print your poster out in black and white to check that you can distinguish different elements
  • in graphs or tables, highlight the important results or main trends to draw the reader’s attention (if interested, the reader can then look at the detail), and check that the results stand out from a few metres away
  • if you have more than 1 table or figure, use consistent characteristics, such as font size and heading styles. 


  • Think about writing your poster around 3 or 4 interesting or engaging images or graphs.
  • Make the reading path clear. You can even consider a series of boxes connected by arrows (especially if describing a process).
  • A poster is a talking point. If you are going to stand with your poster (and you should!), what can you leave off the poster and then say yourself?
  • Posters can be informal, even amusing, depending on the conference and its formality. There is room for creativity, as long as the communication is clear!
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