05 September 2019

Citing posters

Kevin polled his Twitter followers with the burning question, ¨Are poster session presentations citable in manuscripts?”

Poll results to, "Are poster session presentations citable in manuscripts?" 50% Yes, 50% No, 107 votes

The audience was spectacularly unhelpful, splitting straight down the middle. 50% said yes, 50% said no.

The way the question was posed was a bit vague. It’s not clear if Kevin was asking whether it is possible to cite posters or whether it is ever a good idea to do so.

If the question was whether it is possible to cite a poster: Yes, it is, and half the survey respondents were wrong. 

Google Scholar entry for Weathers et al. 1993, showing "Total citations: Cited by 4830"

A 1993 poster by Frank Weathers and colleagues has been cited over 4,000 times, according to Google Scholar. (Hat tip to Steve Lancaster.) This is a strong candidate for the most cited poster of all time

Proof positive that posters can be cited... if editors allow it. Some journals are fussy about what they will allow in their reference lists and only allow peer reviewed papers.

Whether posters should be cited depends on whether posters are ephemera or part of the scientific record.

The argument for “No citing posters” assume that posters are ephemeral and center on whether a claim is verifiable. This seems to be an extension of a “Raw data or it didn’t happen” position of some open science advocates. Since it’s usually an abstract that is published, not the actual poster, the record may not be as good as a complete paper. But even published papers vary in quality, so saying “no posters” is an arbitrary cut-off line. There are poster abstracts I would trust over some published papers.

Some posters don’t even have a published abstract. But some journals permit “personal communications,” and the poster could cited that way rather than a presentation.

Foster and colleagues (2019) argue that conference posters are part of the scientific record. Some conferences publish conference abstracts in journals, so the abstract is as findable as any journal article. People can self-archive posters one their own websites, institutional repositories, Figshare, and more.

I’ve sometimes cited posters that presented earlier versions of work in final manuscript I submitted to a journal, saying, “This work has been published in abstract.” Why do this? Just to pump my citation count? No. Because you cite prior work. That’s the point of citations. I want people to be able to track the progress of the work. If the conference abstract is findable, citing the abstract provides a way for someone who stumbles across the abstract to find the final version of the work in a journal.

There is a lot being said these days in biology about how preprints are speeding up work. And a recent conversation on twitter about a trainee whose boss was blocking publication of research led to a lot of people bemoaning wasted resources.

You want to talk about speeding things up and reducing wasted effort? Let’s talk posters.

A systematic Cochrane review found less than half of conference presentations are published, and posters are less likely to be published (Scherer et al. 2018). This means that conference posters may be the only record of some experiment or finding.

If speed is that big a concern to you:

  1. Archive your posters. Make the findable somehow.
  2. Publish work presented on posters. Do not let your ego get in the way. It the research was competent, find a home for it, regardless of whether it’s an “interesting” result or not.
  3. Cite posters. Don’t wait until someone publishes a peer reviewed paper, because it may never come. And push back on editors who don’t want to cite posters.

Posters are part of the scientific record, and we need to start treating them as such.


Foster C, Wager E, Marchington J, Patel M, Banner S, Kennard NC, Panayi A, Stacey R, The GPCAP Working Group. 2019. Good practice for conference abstracts and presentations: GPCAP. Research Integrity and Peer Review 4(1): 11. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-019-0070-x

Scherer RW, Meerpohl JJ, Pfeifer N, Schmucker C, Schwarzer G, von Elm, E. 2018. Full publication of results initially presented in abstracts. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, MR000005. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.MR000005.pub4

Weathers, F.W., Litz, B.T., Herman, D.S., Huska, J.A. & Keane, T.M. 1993. The PTSD Checklist (PCL): Reliability, validity, and diagnostic utility. San Antonio, Texas, USA.over