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“A poster forces you to display your material in a succinct and engaging way: this challenge can be useful in itself, helping you to clarify your thinking.”
Creating an academic poster requires a careful balancing act: on the one hand you need a reasonable amount of detail to maintain academic rigour; on the other you need it to be attractive and appealing so that people wandering the room will be drawn to it and will not have to spend too long reading it to get your main points.
Setting your poster size (using MS PowerPoint)
Whilst other software can be used, MS PowerPoint is simple to use and its slide size can be changed to make it suitable for posters. The ease of positioning text boxes and adding images also makes it an excellent choice for someone without expertise in other design software.
- Start a new presentation in MS PowerPoint.
- Display the Design ribbon.
- Click on the Slide Size button and choose Custom Slide Size.
This will display the dialog box shown below/right:
- If required, change the Orientation option for slides to Portrait. (Check what you have been asked for, sometimes you can choose yourself but other times it is specified.)
- For an A4 or A3 poster, select A4 or A3 Paper from the options in the Slides sized for box.
- For larger sizes such as A2, A1 or A0, choose Custom from the bottom of the options in the Slides sized for box.
- Enter the size you require (see list).
A2 = 42cm x 59.4cm
A1 = 59.4cm x 84.1cm
A0 = 84.1cm x 118.9cm
- Click OK
- You will be asked to choose either Maximise or Ensure fit - choose either as it does not matter until you have elements on the slide.
- You can now rearrange the boxes on the slide and add new ones as required.
- For help with using PowerPoint more generally, see the MS PowerPoint page on our Microsoft Office Software SkillsGuide.
How to make your poster appealing
Well structured posters are the most appealing and approachable. Good poster structure should include:
- A clear, large heading that you can read from several paces back in the room. Your audience should be able to read it without having to get really close.
- It should be really clear where your viewer should look first and what order they should move through the rest of the poster. Generally a column format helps this.
- All posters should include some imagery (charts, diagrams, photographs etc) - purely textual posters will put people off.
- Your findings should be obvious and easy to find.
- Conclusions should be crystal clear and again obvious and easy to find.
- Your affiliation (department/university) should be easy to see but not dominant.
At most conferences and symposiums, people will only look at your poster for about five minutes (and that is only if they found it interesting enough to walk over to and engaging enough to keep reading). It is essential therefore that you keep the information on it as simple as possible so that they can get the complete message during that time. If your poster is really good, you may manage to keep them there for longer.
How to get people to initially look at your poster
Don't overfill the poster with information. Think of it as a visual representation of your abstract not your whole paper.
Make sure your audience can read the heading from afar.
Use colours that are interesting and appealing.
Have an interesting format that makes your poster stand out from the crowd (optional - this really works but not everyone has the design experience necessary to pull it off).
How to make your posters look professional
- Use colours with plenty of contrast - your text must all be easily readable. This is really important when your text is over images.
- Use plenty of 'white' space. This does not actually have to be white - it just means plenty of blank areas and room between your elements.
- Make sure your photographs are high resolution.
- Make sure you follow the guidelines for the event (generally size and orientation may be specified).
How to keep people reading
Hook your reader from the start - put something really interesting in the first part that they read.
Focus the message - if they could only remember one thing, what would it be? Make sure it is prominent.
Break the information into bite-size sections. Chunking your material means people can understand it better.
Caption your images to make sure their point is clear. Use annotations too to highlight was is important or relevant.
Recommended web resources:
Digital Student: Free resources - including images
How to create beautiful and effective academic posters in PowerPoint.
Woolston C. (2016) Conference presentations: Lead the poster parade. Nature, 536, 115-11.
Better Posters, Critique of a poster
How to Design an Award-Winning Conference Poster