18 June 2020

Review: Academic & Scientific Poster Presentation: A Modern Comprehensive Guide

Full disclosure: This book was published after I had started the process of writing my own book on posters. I wanted to write my book my way, and didn’t want to imitate Rowe’s work. I bought Rowe’s book, but put it aside until my manuscript was handed over to my editor and my book was well along its own path to publication. That’s why there has been no review until now.

That I have my own book coming out means I am not exactly a dispassionate observer here. You may gauge my comments about this book accordingly.

Nicholas Rowe’s Academic & Scientific Poster Presentation is only the second book I have found specifically devoted to academic conference posters. The first, from 1999 (reviewed here), hasn’t aged well, so it was past time for a new book on the topic.

Near the end, in Chapter 12, Rowe admits the book is the end result of his own frustration:

(T)he author (tired and mildly disappointed after a mediocre poster session) began to wonder about the actual benefits of poster presentation and what could be done to improve the current situation. ... This book is one output of the research(.)
It’s telling that Rowe describes the book as a research product. The style of the book is conceptual, theoretical, and analytical. (There is even an equation.) Here’s a taste of the style:

Figure 3.3 shows the way that poster presentation facilitates transactional exchange around a given topic (for a more detailed discussion on this subject, see Rowe 2012). No robust empirical studies have been conducted into the level of knowledge transfer that is achieved by the poster medium...

This is more a book of scholarship about posters more than it is advice on how to create posters. For example, Rowe reproduces one of the earliest examples of something that might have been at a “poster session” from 1946!

Rowe repeatedly mentions how little research has been done into conferences in general and posters in particular. The lack of research is strange, he notes, given that the cost of making posters probably reaches into the billions of US dollars per year, and is the second most common form of academic communication.

There is some “how to” advice. If you pick up this book looking for advice on how to make a poster, chapters 6 to 9 on design, and chapter 12 on presentation, are the most relevant. Like most of the book, the advice tends to be on the theoretical side. The advice sometimes delivers very specific details on how to do things in PowerPoint, which is can be a somewhat jarring shift in gear.

The book has 26 figures. Most appear to have been made in PowerPoint. This would not be surprising, since many of Rowe’s specific recommendations concern how to do things in PowerPoint.

Figure 5.1 The needs of parties involved in poster sessions

As you can see here, most of the figures are low resolution mock-ups of posters, not final, polished versions. Chapter 6 has examples of completed posters, but they almost thumbnails (4 and 7 examples to a page) where the detail is hard too see.

One of the ways I check for “currency” is whether links still work. Some diagrams have QR codes, so I scanned a couple of those. They still work!

There is only detail which I disagreed with.

(T)he annual convention of the Modern Language Association of America, the MLA, is said to be the largest academic conference in the world, and in 2014, it had more than 10,000 attendees and 810 sessions and lectures

This is in no way near the largest. The 2014 American Geophysical Union fall meeting had 25,920 registered. The 2014 Neuroscience meeting had 31,250 in attendance. This claim was, unfortunately, on page 2! Fortunately, this did not auger ill for the rest of the book.

Rowe’s book is alone in its scholarship of poster presentations, and ends with several potential research topics for the future. I absolutely agree with his point that posters and poster sessions have been an overlooked topic for research. Rowe’s book is an excellent starting point for any scholar who wants to start examining an untapped vein of research about research.

Related posts

Review: Scientist’s Guide to Poster Presentations


Rowe N. 2017. Academic & Scientific Poster Presentation: A Modern Comprehensive Guide. 170 pp, 26 figures. Springer: Cham, Switzerland. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-61280-5

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