25 October 2021

Ten simple rules for conference posters

I am being a lazy blogger and turning a Twitter thread into a blog post. John Butler asked for, “Something like 10 steps for a good conference poster.”

So I made something up off the top of my head.

  1. Read the instructions. Sounds easy, but printers say “wrong size” is the #1 problem they see.
  2. Your title is most of your communication effort. It’s all most people will ever read. Spend a lot of time on your title! Don’t just use the first one that comes to mind. Simple declarative statements of the main finding work well.
  3. You should be able say what your poster is about in one sentence. Too many people want to show everything they have done. Focus.
  4. Make you one sentence in an ABT (and, but, therefore) format. What are a couple of facts? (“We know X and Y...”) What is the problem? (“But X doesn't hold in this case...”) What is the consequence of that? (“Therefore...”)
  5. Make a grid. A three column grid is really hard to screw up. It’s not the only way. More or fewer columns can work. Rows can work. But three columns is a robust layout.
  6. Leave space. Lots of people, because they did not focus enough (#3), make skinny little margins to try to fit more stuff on. It’s hard to read. Be generous with margins between columns, and with white space between text and graphics.
  7. Be consistent. Consistent fonts. Consistent colours. Consistent column width. A common is that people make graphs before the poster, and don’t go back to make the graph fit with the rest of the poster.
  8. Bigger is better. A common question is, “What’s the minimum font size for a poster?” (This is often coming from people trying to shove too much stuff on the page.) Accessibility guidelines usually recommend type be several times bigger than what many people use.
  9. Practice what you are going to say. Do this before you print your poster. Sometimes you’ll find the order you laid stuff out in (because “It just fit there”) is not the natural order when you talk it through. The visuals and your explanation should follow the same order.
  10. Do the “arm’s length” test. When you’re done layout, print your poster scaled down to a single letter sized piece of paper. Hold it at arm’s length. If your vision is reasonable, you should be able to read your shrunk down poster at arm's length. If you can’t, it’s too small.

The Twitter thread has marginally related GIFs.

External links

Ten simple rules for a good poster presentation

(PLOS Computational Biology)

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