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Poster Production: Poster Basics

Information about creating your own posters and presentations.

Poster Production Basics

Poster illustration with question mark over itTo begin, there are a few basic things you will need to think about as you start planning your academic poster, including deciding what your basic message is, who the audience that will likely be seeing that message is, and what your space and price requirements are. We start off by defining exactly what a poster is, from an academic standpoint.

What is a Poster?

A poster is visual communication tool. An effective poster will get your main ideas across to many people and will assist you in engaging your colleagues in conversations. A well-designed poster will act as a source of information, be a conversation starter, and promote and summarize your work.

Using this Information

A well-designed poster will deliver a message, is highly visual, and is readable from 3-6 feet away. Unfortunately many posters suffer from problems that can easily be fixed such as: main points are hard to find, small text, poor graphics, and poor layout. These guidelines will take you through the process of creating a successful poster.

Getting Started

  • Start with an idea. Your idea (or concept) must be turned into a visual poster by using a clear message supported by a combination of text and images.
  • Know your message: Have a clear image in your mind of the one thing you want your audience to learn and go home with.
  • Focus on that one message throughout the poster. If a color or picture or image does not reinforce the message, delete it.
  • Know your audience: Your target audience will determine the look and content of your poster presentation.
Who's my Audience?

The audience should shape your poster . . .

(1) Specialists only. You can assume a high level of disciplinary knowledge, use jargon, and take other presentation shortcuts.
(2) Wide-ranging discipline. You can assume familiarity with the discipline in general, but there are so many sub-specialties that jargon is to be avoided and language simplified.
(3) Very general audience. You cannot assume familiarity with any discipline and must explain everything in the most basic terms.

However, there are three types of people in almost any audience . . .  (Woolsey 1989)

(1) People in your field of specialization are likely to seek out and read your poster, even if it's not very good.
(2) People in related fields might study your poster, if they can be "hooked" quickly. They are worth capturing, because they can have interesting insights and perspectives about your work.
(3) People in unrelated fields are not likely to read your entire poster, but might want to quickly read and glean the main points.

You want to - and can - satisfy them all!!

Write an abstract: An abstract is generally needed to get a poster accepted and a good abstract will serve as a starting outline for the poster. An abstract can also be illustrated with images that will go into the final poster.

Create a draft poster: Drafts, whether printed or done by hand, can help with the overall layout and design of the poster. Information can be edited, moved around, and verified before the final is done.

Displaying your poster: Before you arrive at the conference you need to verify the size of the available display space, have the necessary mounting materials with you such as double sided tape, push pins, or Velcro™, and mounting boards or form core. If your poster is going to be displayed at several events, you may wish to have it laminated to protect it.

Evaluate the outcome: How was the poster received? Did it make an impact? Was your message clear and understood by those who viewed it? Use what you learned in designing your next poster presentation.

Planning Your Poster

What's my message?

  • Say it again!
  • You must be able to state your main point(s) or conclusion(s) succinctly.
  • All  visuals and text should relate to those points and conclusions.

How much room do I have?

  • Determine specific size requirements.

This determines what you can fit ...
What you'll have to leave out ...
And how things will be organized.

How much money do I have?

  • Cardboard or foam core?
  • High quality paper or not?
  • Do it yourself or contract it out?

Set up some deadlines

  • Especially important if the poster is multi-authored.
  • Start with the due date and work back to create milestones.
  • Remember to leave time for friendly review and editing.


Woolsey, J.D. 1989. Combating poster fatigue: How to use visual grammar and analysis to effect better visual communication. Trends in Neurosciences 12: 325-332.

Text by Fran Rogers. Full original document, below:

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