Designing conference posters

Woman presenting scientific research with a poster

A large-format poster is a big piece of paper or wall-mounted monitor featuring a short title, an introduction to your burning question, an overview of your novel experimental approach, your amazing results in graphical form, some insightful discussion of aforementioned results, a listing of previously published articles that are important to your research, and some brief acknowledgement of the tremendous assistance and financial support conned from others — if all text is kept to a minimum (less than a 1000 words), a person could fully read your poster in 5-10 minutes.

Why give a poster instead of a talk

Although you could communicate research via a 15-minute talk at the same meeting, presenting a poster allows you to more personally interact with the people who are interested in your topic, and lets you reach people who might not be in your esoteric but no doubt fascinating sub-field. And, it turns out, posters sessions are not all about you: research has demonstrated that people who are standing are more engaged learners than people sitting in chairs (at talks). Posters are also handy because they can still be viewed even when you’re not present. And after the conference ends, you can hang the poster in the hallway of your department for people to admire. Finally, presenting a poster is especially recommended if you suck at public speaking, or suck at speaking a particular language (the reason poster sessions were invented!).

Motivational advice

The best general advice I can give a first-time poster constructor is to describe the circumstances in which a poster will eventually be viewed: a hot, loud, congested room with really bad lighting. And meeting organizers will invariably situate your poster between two posters that are infinitely more entertaining, such as “Teaching house cats to perform cold fusion” and “Huff-quacking in extraordinarily cute red pandas.” In these circumstances, your poster needs to be interesting and visually slick if you hope to attract viewers. This site is full of tips for achieving both.

Poster session at Society for Neuroscience's Annual Meeting

Poster tips … in a poster

To get you started on crafting a poster, here’s a poster that is crammed full of tips on how to make a poster. Just click to enlarge, or download the PDF and print. If you’re a teacher and assign poster projects for your classes, you can print this poster large (poster sized) and hang it in a hallway for students to digest in the weeks before they begin their own.

Advice on designing scientific posters
Click on image to view larger version that has legible tips.

The above poster doesn’t have all the tricks, so please visit the links at the bottom of this page for more detailed advice.


If you have any questions, pop me an email. If you share this page on Twitter (thanks!) and want to cc me, I’m @colinpurrington. No need to check with me beforehand if you’d like to link to this page — link away, with thanks.

Poster design overview • Section contents • DOs and DON’Ts • Bad example
Templates • Printing • Poster additions • Presenting • Resources


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