21 May 2009

References on posters

Technical poster are often similar in their structure to technical manuscripts. But a big difference between technical presentations – posters or verbal – and technical papers is that there are very rarely any rules for posters other than, “Make it fit within the defined space on the poster board.” Technical manuscripts often have extraordinary obsessive and detailed rules.

Poster presentations have only a few loose, generally accepted practices. Everything else is up for grabs.

References are incredibly important in technical papers, but should they be handled the same way for posters? I know some of my colleagues who have said that if a poster doesn’t have any references, it’s an automatic fail. On the other hand, I have had some posters with no references (though not in a long time).

In general, you probably shouldn’t have as many references as in a full manuscript. A poster is not intended to be a complete literature review. The point of references is to give an indication that you’ve done due diligence in reading the literature. Audiences will rarely want to copy down the references to check up on them, which is often a major point of references in a paper.

Experiment with different ways of incorporating references. Instead of having Harvard style references with all the compiled references at the end, how about having short references in the main body of the text? Instead of putting (Faulkes 2006) in the main text and sticking the full reference at the end like this:

Faulkes Z. 2006. Digging mechanisms and substrate preferences of shovel nosed lobsters, Ibacus peronii (Decapoda: Scyllaridae). Journal of Crustacean Biology 26(1): 69-72.

Try something like this in the main text: (Faulkes 2006, J Crust Biol 26: 69). It’s enough information that anyone can locate the reference if they really want to.

One of my favourite sayings is, “Science is what you can get away with.” This is particularly true of poster presentations.

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