Tag Archives: template

The fine print on poster sessions

For giggles, I contacted approximately 100 societies with annual meetings coming up, and asked them whether they offered word count suggestions for attendees presenting posters.  The majority didn’t write back (no real surprise), but of those that did the most common response was, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Some went on to provide me with the word count limit for the abstracts submitted (to get your poster accepted).  Only one response had the information I was looking for: “5 pages of 16pt text” as maximum.  If you fill up 5 pages with the phrase “average word”, that gives you 1750 words. Personally, I think 500 – 1000 is a good range. If you’re curious what a wordy poster looks like, I’ve attached to this post an image of text-only version of one of my templates.

Word count of poster with too much text

In hindsight, though, it was probably a silly question.  What is more important and understandable to attendees preparing their posters is the minimum acceptable font size, because even in posters with low word count, readability can be awful if all the figure text (for example) is set in 12pt instead of the size of the rest of the body text. If only the poster prize committee would police these limits, though.  Whenever I stumble onto a site showing prize-winning posters, committees often seem to be awarding people who have made their font smaller than everyone else, invariably the size is smaller than meeting guidelines.  It’s really puzzling.  It could be that people with high-quality content have a lot to say, and so they have to shrink font size to get it all in.  However, I just think people are somehow wired or trained to attribute small print to “authoritative, creative” and large print to “amateurish, insecure.”  Or do judges take longer to read the small text, and thus demonstrate the “disfluency” advantage that gives strange fonts an advantage in memory retention? If there is a typographer/psychologist out there with insight into this phenomenon, please fill me in.

I know it’s never going to happen, but in an ideal world judges would carry one of those fun little plastic shape templates while they review posters.  Then they could position the 3/8″ circle (or whatever) over a standard letter (“s” perhaps) to evaluate the size.  If the “s” fits without touching the edges, it’s too small and the poster cannot be entered into the prize pool.  Something like this would be really useful, because kids these days have no idea what font size means, especially when the final output is large.

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Templates for portrait-style science posters

Just a website update for those who care about scientific posters: added two Powerpoint templates with portrait-style orientation. The one on the left is for people who love columns. But I like a big space for results so that you can show off the big finding, so I prefer the one on the right. I call that big space the “Results arena.” But the disadvantage of the one on the right is that your conclusions are moved down low, and taller viewers have to bend their necks a tad to read it. But if your results stand nicely on their own, it can work well. Both versions, like all my templates, nudge you to put logos at the bottom (ideally, delete them altogether … you don’t need logos). Find the downloadable PPT files in my Designing conference posters page.

Powerpoint templates for portrait-style scientific posters

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Example of bad scientific poster

When I give lectures on poster design, I sometimes show examples of horrific posters I’ve found on the internet — they are pretty much all bad, in fact. Someday, though, the author of a poster I’m critiquing is going to be in the audience, probably in the front row, and probably carrying a concealed weapon. So I thought it was time to construct my own terrible poster example. The result is, “Pigs in space: effect of zero gravity and ad libitum feeding on weight gain in Cavia porcellus.” I’m especially ashamed of the bad logos, which I designed so as not to anger actual entities like NSF, SpaceX, and the Corn Refiners Association. A partial list of why the poster is awful is below the image.

Example of bad scientific poster (copyright colin purrington)

Why this is a terrible poster:

  1. Too much text.
  2. Background image is distracting, wastes ink.
  3. Text box backgrounds are dark, which makes text hard to read (and wastes ink).
  4. Text box backgrounds are all different colors, for no reason (thus annoying).
  5. Text boxes are different widths (and annoying).
  6. Text boxes not separated from each other by pleasing “white” space.
  7. Text box edges not aligned, which is annoying.
  8. Text justified, which causes bad inter-word spacing. Also makes reading harder (brain uses jaggedness of left-justified text).
  9. Logos are pretentious (true of any logo).
  10. Logos crowd the title.
  11. Title perspective is annoying (unless you like Star Wars).
  12. Title is in all caps, which is harder to read and obscures Latin name).
  13. Title is italicized, which obscures Latin name.
  14. Author font and color is annoying (comic sans should be reserved for comic books).
  15. Author font color is too loud relative to other text.
  16. Results are presented in sentences instead of visually with charts.
  17. Section headers have more than one type of formatting (big font, bolded, italicized, underlined, and colored — ack!).  Choose one. [Note: I forgot to number the sections…that would have been even worse.]
  18. Terrible graphic of Guinea pig on scale. Need one of the actual set up (pigs eating while weightless, for example). [UPDATE: Or should have bribed Jeff at joegp.com, who apparently has a comic series about Guinea pigs in space suits. Awesome]
  19. Inclusion of an Abstract gobbles up space needlessly. Abstract section should be banned from posters.
  20. Plus the science is terrible! (Bad science is correlated with bad graphic design, by the way.)

I encourage teachers to print the poster and show to students a month before their posters are due. Students don’t read instructions anymore unless you threaten them with a test or coat the material with something snarky, and the above might be able to break through their filters. The printable PDF is on my “Designing conference posters” page if you want to try.

And yes, that fictitious street number is a gravity joke. Sorry.

Believe it or not, the poster got published in the journal Nature.

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