Right, you are to present your
research work as posters. What do you do? Panic? What the hell
are posters? Surely you have posters of the Spice Girls
or Take That (depending on your inclination of
course)!. No, those are not the kind of posters we are referring
to although the purpose is similar. We are concerned with the
use of posters to present technical information, not images.
A poster is simply a static,
visual medium (usually of the paper and board variety) that
you use to communicate ideas and messages. The difference between
poster and oral presentations is that you should
let your poster do most of the 'talking'; that is, the material
presented should convey the essence of your message. However,
that does not mean that you can disappear to the pub or where
ever you fancy. You have to 'stand-by-your-poster'! Your task
as the presenter is to answer questions and provide further
details; to bask in praises or suffer difficult questions; and
to convince others that what you have done is excellent and
Easy or what?
But wait ... first, stop and think!
How much poster space are you
The purpose of poster presentations
is not to have boards upon boards of information. Better to
hand out a report in that case. If you are presenting your poster
at a conference or convention, you would have limited space.
The space you are allowed will determine the content of the
poster. Find out how much space you are allowed!
Is there a standard format?
Yes, there is! As with an oral
presentation, there is normally:
- a Title page, telling
others the title of the project, the people involved in the
work and their affiliation.
- a Summary of the project
stating what you have set out to do, how you have done it,
the key findings and the main results.
- an Introduction that
should include clear statements about the problem that you
are trying to solve, the characteristics that you are trying
to discover or the proofs that you are trying to establish.
These should then lead to declarations of project aims and
- a Theory or Methodology
section that explains the basis of the technique that
you are using or the procedure that you have adopted in your
study. You should also state and justify any assumptions,
so that your results could be viewed in the proper context.
- a Results section that
you use to show illustrative examples of the main results
of the work..
- a Conclusion section,
listing the main findings of your investigation, and
- a Further Work section
that should contain your recommendations and thoughts about
how the work could be progressed; other tests that could be
You therefore have to present
certain pieces of information but have limited space. So, before
you rush away to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, spend
a few moments or even hours to plan your presentation. This
is very important. Unlike oral presentations, where some ultra-smooth
talkers may be able to divert attention from a poorly planned
presentation, with posters, poor planning is there for all to
|Planning is crucial
if you do not want to be afflicted by the 'headless chicken' syndrome.
There are several stages in planning a presentation.
Gathering the information
First, ask yourself the following
- What is the objective of
- Has someone done the work
- How have I gone about with
- Why did I follow this particular
route of investigation?
- What are the principles
governing the technique that I am using?
- What assumptions did I make
and what were my justifications?
- What problems did I encounter?
- What results did I obtain?
- Have I solved the problem?
- What have I found out?
- Are the analyses sound?
Although the above list is
by no means exhaustive, you should get the gist. You have
to stand back and think again about the What's,
the How's and the Why's of the
work that you have done. You have to examine critically, the
approach that you have taken and the results that you have
got. Be ruthless in your assessment: better to be a masochist
than the victim of a sadist .
Ideally, you should have done this throughout your project
anyway. In doing so, you will have a clearer idea of the objectives
and the contributions that you have, or have not, been able
to make. This means that you will know better, the information
you have at your disposal for presentation.
Such brainstorming often yields
loads of responses. Jot your answers on a BIG piece of paper,
not necessarily in an ordered fashion. The intention is to
note as many points as possible, so that you do not miss any
important aspects. The ordering and pruning of the information
come later. From your list, note the common areas, topics
or pieces of information, and group them together. Use colour
or number coding, or circles and lines to help you identify
and categorise the information. This activity should help
you focus further on the content you can use with confidence.
Deciding on the
If you follow the above presentation
format guidelines, then the content is more or less determined
for you. However, given that you have limited space, you now
have to decide between what is important and what is not necessary.
Your decision should be based on at least 2 factors, namely:
- What are you trying to
achieve by presenting the posters? Is it to sell a product?
Is it to tell people what you have done? Is it to tell people
of a new discovery? Is it to convince people that one product
or technique is better than another?
- Who will be attending
the presentation? Are they technical people? What is
the level of their knowledge of your subject area?
The answers to these questions
define the type of content to include and set the tone
of the presentation.
An advertising billboard is a
poster. If well designed, it will be attractive and engender
a lasting impression; earnest but not boring. Importantly, it
should shout out to you - "buy me!"
or you would think "I want that!" Similarly,
in using posters to convey technical information, they should
be designed such that readers think "Yes!"
or "I see!" and leave with the impression
that they have learnt something new.
Ultimately, poster design is
a personal matter and different individuals will have different
views on how best to present certain information. Nevertheless,
here are some 'rules-of-tham'
to guide you:
plan and plan!
- Keep the material simple
- make full use of the space,
but do not cramp a page full of information as the result
can often appear messy
- be concise and do not
waffle. Use only pertinent information to convey your
- be selective when showing
results. Present only those that illustrate the main findings
of the project. However, do keep other results handy so
that you may refer to them when asked
- Use colours sparingly and
- colours should be used
only to emphasise, differentiate
and to add interest. Do not
use colours just to impress!
- try to avoid using large
swathes of bright garish colours like bright green, pink,
orange or lilac. Yuck!!
- pastel shades convey feelings
of serenity and calm while dark bright colours conjure
images of conflict and disharmony.
- choose background and
foreground colour combinations that have high contrast
and complement each other - black or dark blue on white
or very light grey is good.
- it is better to keep the
background light as people are used to it (for example
newspapers and books)
- if you insist on having
a dark background, use coloured paper so that you would
not have to spray white paper with ink. Not only is this
cheaper, you would also not face the problem of a soaked
and distorted page.
- avoid the use of gradient
fills. They may look great on a computer display, but
unless you have access to a high resolution printer, the
paper version can look really tatty.
- Do not use more than 2
- too many font types distracts,
especially when they appear on the same sentence
- fonts that are easy on
the eyes are Times-Roman and Arial.
This is Arial
and headings should appear larger
than other text, but not too large. The text should also be
legible from a distance, say from 1.5m to 2m.
- Do not use all UPPER CASE
type in your posters. It can make the material difficult
to read. Just compare the two sentences below:
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS LINE WHERE ALL THE
CHARACTERS ARE IN UPPER CASE?
What do you think of this line, where only the first character
of the first word is in upper case?
- Do not use a different
font type to highlight important points
- otherwise the fluency
and flow of your sentence can appear disrupted. For example,
In this sentence, I want to emphasise the word
In this sentence, I want to emphasise
the word 'emphasise'.
- use underlined text,
the bold face or italics or combinations
to emphasise words and phrases.
- if you use bold
italicised print for emphasis, then underlining
is not necessary - overkill!
- should be kept to a minimum
- present only the necessary
and important equations
- should be large enough
(see point 5)
- should be accompanied
by nomenclature to explain the significance of each variable
- A picture is worth a thousand
(but only if it is drawn properly and used
- choose graphs types
that are appropriate to the information that you want
- annotations should
be large enough, and the lines of line-graphs should
be thick enough so that they may be viewed from a
distance (see point 5)
- do not attempt to
have more than six line-graphs on a single plot
- instead of using lines
of different thickness, use contrasting coloured
lines or different line styles to distinguish
between different lines in multi-line graphs.
- multi-line plots or
plots with more than one variable should have a legend
relating the plotted variable to the colour or style
of the line.
- diagrams and drawings,
- should be labelled
- drawings and labels
should be large and clear enough so that they are
still legible from a distance
- do not try to cramp
labelling to fit into components of a drawing or diagram.
Use 'arrows' and 'callouts'
- should only be used
if they add interest to the display and
complement the subject matter. Otherwise, all they
do is to distract attention from the focus of the
- can also be 'dangerous'
as you may spend more time fiddling about with images
and choosing appropriate cartoons than concentrating
on the content.
- Check your spelling
- there is nothing more
amusing or annoying than spelling mistakes on public display,
especially if they are on the title page.
- spelling mistakes give
the impression that you have not put in the effort; careless;
not bothered; not worthy of high assessment scores.
- Maintain a consistent
- inconsistent styles give
the impression of disharmony and can interrupt the fluency
and flow of your messages.
- headings on the different
pages of the poster should appear in the same position
on all pages.
- graphs should be of the
same size and scale especially if they are to be compared.
- if bold lettering is used
for emphasis on one page, then do not use italics on others.
- captions for graphs, drawings
and tables should either be positioned at the top or at
the bottom of the figure.
- Arrangement of poster components
should appear smooth
- you would probably be
preparing sections of the poster on A4 sized paper before
sticking them onto mounting boards or display stands.
- remember that you are
using posters to tell a story about what you have done
and achieved. As in report writing, the way you arrange
the sections should follow the 'storyline'.
- sometimes it is helpful
if you provide cutouts of arrows to direct attention to
the sequence of the presentation
- use a new page to start
off a new section (see format)
- Review, review and review
- make draft versions of
your poster sections and check them for
- try different layout arrangements
- ask your partner, friends,
colleagues or supervisor for their 'honest' opinions
- be critical
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