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Planning and Designing an Academic Poster


Start planning the content for your poster early. Give thought to how you will translate the content from a written paper or report to a poster format. This means keeping in mind space and layout limitations, elements that add visual interest (images, charts, graphs, illustrations, etc..), headings, and titles. Consider your key message and your audience. A good rule of thumb is to aim for no more than 1000-1100 words on your poster. You may use PowerPoint, Pages, InDesign, or another software to create your poster. Your department may have a template for poster presentations for your discipline, so check with your advisor before creating your own poster. A detailed style guide can be found here.

Design Elements

Be aware of several general guidelines for design elements when creating your poster:

  1. Backgrounds: Be careful with full-color, textured, or (especially) image backgrounds. You can use them, but they will take longer to print, require careful selection of font size, style, and color, and will often require you to add a background color to text boxes or image frames.
  2. Fonts: A good general guideline for font choices is to use common fonts. Helvetica, Times, Arial, Verdana, and Georgia are all common fonts for printing. Avoid overly decorative fonts that may be more difficult to read.
  3. Font Size: A general guideline for font sizes is 98 points for the Title, 48 points for headings, and 24 points for the body text. You can obviously vary from this somewhat, but anything smaller than 18 points may be difficult to read from a few feet away for many people. Keep the setting in which you will be presenting your poster in mind when determining these sizes. Also, keep in mind that if you are forced to increase your font size you may need to cut text or change your layout to accommodate larger characters. 
  4. Blank Space: Remember to leave proper spacing between elements of your poster. If text boxes and images are cramped on the page, it makes the poster more difficult to read.
  5. Images: Posters are a visual medium, and for that reason, images can add significant interest to your design. The images could be graphs, charts, photographs, illustrations, or other visual materials that relate to your topic.

Poster Content

Depending on the type of information you would like to present on your poster you might consider including some, or all of the following information:

  • Abstract, as appropriate
  • Background/Introduction
  • Research Question/Problem/Hypothesis
  • Materials and Methodology
  • Data
  • Conclusion (may also include here the potential for future studies)
  • Any acknowledgements necessary

Remember to always keep it legible from a 5 foot distance, and make it easy for any reader, regardless of background, to follow along with your work. Anchoring your work in something familiar or giving the reader something to relate to can also be helpful. And remember to keep clear and concise sections and headers.

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