What is the Purpose of a Poster Presentation?
Poster presentations are designed to encourage dynamic two-way communication and have become one of the most important types of scientific communication at medical and scientific meetings.
The poster should be designed to engage the audience and display the information in a clear, concise and logical fashion. Although you may be on hand to discuss your research, the poster should "stand alone" with regard to content. Remember that your poster will be viewed in context with dozens of other posters in a noisy, social environment. It is imperative to capture your audience with your title, introduction and graphics.
The first word of advice is to begin early! Posters that are constructed at "the last minute" generally appear that way as well. Begin by making a rough draft of the most important elements you wish to convey in the poster. Then use this information to fill in the specific sections of the poster (Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Conclusions, References, etc.). Use the SJP poster template (links near bottom of page) to assist with inputting material. Once everything is in place, work to reduce superfluous language, unrelated information, redundant information, etc.
Posters are prepared in Microsoft Power Point (templates available on this site are in Power Point). Be certain to back-up your material on a separate disk and take that disk with you to the conference in case the poster is lost or destroyed in transit; you can also save it in an email. Determine who will appear as authors on the study and who will be the primary and secondary authors at the beginning of the study to avoid misunderstandings.
Professional medical societies typically publish guidelines for poster presentations and abstracts along with registration information for a given conference. These generally include subject range, basic components of the poster, overall size dimensions and reference formats. It is important to strictly adhere to these guidelines.
Basic Elements of the Poster
The basic elements of a poster consist of:
- Title: The title should convey the basic purpose or scope of the poster. The title should be the same as that used in the abstract.
- Make the title "eye-catching"
- Avoid font sizes that are too small or hard to read
- Avoid tremendously long titles
- Avoid abbreviations
- Authors: Generally, the individual with the greatest amount of intellectual effort and sweat equity appears first, followed in order by authors who put forth correspondingly less effort. The last author is often the most senior member of the group such as the mentor, chairman, attending physician, director, etc. Indicate the affiliation of authors by using a superscript number or asterisk after their name and correlate this with their institution or department indicated below their names. All authors appearing on the poster or abstract must be capable of defending the work and must have put forth some degree of intellectual effort. It is inappropriate and unethical to provide a gift authorship to someone who is unfamiliar with the work. It is important that all authors and their affiliations appear on the poster in the exact manner in which they appear in the abstract.
- Abstract: The abstract does not appear on the poster, but you will be asked to submit one for inclusion in the meeting program. Please see my "Guide to Writing Abstracts" for a discussion on how to create abstracts. Remember that all names appearing on the abstract should also appear on the poster and in the same order.
- Introduction: The introduction is designed to engage the reader and provide them with the absolute minimum amount of background information necessary to comprehend and appreciate the remainder of the presentation. Within this section should be a statement describing either your hypothesis, the importance or significance of the study or the uniqueness of the case study.
- There should be a sentence beginning with: "The (objective, purpose, significance) of this study was..."
- Keep the introduction section to an absolute minimum as large blocks of text tends to put the reader off
- Consider bulleted statements to minimize the use of extraneous words
- Be certain to tell the reader why you did this study
- Avoid the use of jargon
- Avoid the use of abbreviations, unless defined first
- Do not put concluding statements regarding your results in this section
- Materials and methods: Briefly describe the experimental equipment, study population (size, stratification, demographics, co-morbidities, etc.), methodology, dosing regimen, statistical treatment of data, etc.
- Consider the use of flow charts for complicated methodologies or procedures
- Do not describe the minutia of a given procedure or methodology unless absolutely necessary
- Use standard abbreviations
- Use units after any numerical information
- Results: The results section must support your conclusions! Include only relevant information and be certain to refer to the data in the text. The figure titles and legends must "stand alone" as many readers will go directly from the introduction to the figures themselves. This is the most important part of the poster and is generally the longest as well.
- Be certain to refer to all figures and tables by number within the corpus of the text
- Avoid tables as much as possible in favor of graphs and images, as they are more interesting
- Add units to any numerical value expressed
- Do not make any single chart or table too complicated
- Include "stand alone" figure legends (below figure) and table titles (above table) with each figure or table
- Avoid including extraneous information that is not directly related to the study as it is confusing and wastes space
- Any findings that are considered significant should have a p-value immediately behind it to support that contention
- Conclusions: The conclusion section should remind the reader of the hypothesis, reason for conducting the study and state whether or not the data you presented supported that hypothesis, and how. This section should also indicate the relevance and importance of your findings and their relationship to the literature if possible. This is also an appropriate place to describe any weaknesses or shortcomings of the study (i.e. small study samples, inconclusive analysis, confounding variables, etc.).
- Consider bulleting statements for clarity and brevity
- Emphasize the importance and relevance of your work
- Avoid large blocks of text-they will not be read
- Be certain that your results actually support your conclusions
- References: References used in the course of the study should be included in the poster to aid other investigators with background reading and to enable them to confirm the veracity of the conclusions drawn from the references. Note: The references must be referred to in the text of the poster.
- Follow standard format for references unless indicated otherwise
- Examples of how to cite literature:
- Article: 1. Faro S. Chlamydia Trachomatis Infection in Women. J Reprod Med. 1995;30:273-8.
- Book/Edited Book: 1. Sweet RL, Gibbs RS, eds. Infectious Diseases of the Female Genital Tract, 3rd ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins: 1998;1320.
- Chapter in Book: 1. Washington AE, Johnson RE, Sanders LL. Incidence of Chlamydia Trachomatis Infections in the United States. In Vaginal Surgery. Oriel D, Ridgway G, Schachter J, et al., eds. New York; John Wiley & Sons, 1995;21-35.
- Acknowledgements: This section is optional but provides an opportunity to thank individuals for their contribution to the study. This may be either for technical assistance, editing or the use of equipment or supplies. These are often people who helped but not to a degree sufficient to be cited as an author. Granting agencies or grants received from professional societies are also typically acknowledged here.
This is optional but is used by some to provide people with your e-mail address, appropriate websites and perhaps a URL where they can download a PDF version of the poster.
Common Errors Typically Seen in Posters Include the Following
- Titles that are either too long or obscure
- Font sizes that are too small. A poster should be readable by 40 year-old eyes at a distance of at least 4 feet
- Failure to work within the basic elements of the poster (Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, Conclusion, etc.)
- Failure to cite references within the body of the text
- Failure to include references
- Failure to reference figures and/or tables within the body of the text
- Failure to include figure headings or legends
- Failure to include table titles
- Selecting background colors that obscure text
- Failure to adequately proof read text for typographical and grammatical errors
- Using large blocks of text instead of bulleting main ideas or paring down text
- Using abbreviations that only someone in the immediate field would know. If abbreviations must be used, first use the full term followed by the abbreviation in parenthesis
- Lack of statistical support for the contention that something was "significant" or "non-significant"
- Failing to describe any weaknesses inherent in the study. If you spot them, someone else will also
- Using red and green within a figure. These can be difficult to see due to the prevalence of color blindness
- Failure to label the axis of graphs or include units
- Using different font types throughout the poster
- Distorting figures by shortening/lengthening one dimension without a proportional shortening/lengthening of the other dimension
- Wasting space
- Failure to use past-tense in writing
Additional Helpful Tips
- Describe the methodologies in chronological order of appearance
- Use generic names for drugs. If you must use a proprietary name, identify the company
- Italicize organism names and Latin terminology such as in vivo, in utero, etc.
- Avoid cluttering the design section with too much minutiae
- The methods section should be a narrative not a numbered list of procedures
- Include appropriate units for any numerical figures presented
- Indicate any trademarked devices, drugs or reagents used
- Use past tense
- Results should be interpretable exclusive of the other sections
- Methods and results should appear in a manner that is chronologically consistent with the study design
- Be sure to include appropriate units (traditional/SI) for any numerical data
- Provide a sentence that synthesizes the data presented
- Provide a summary sentence that relates this work to the "big picture" if possible
When the semi-finished draft has been completed, email the poster to firstname.lastname@example.org in the Department of Biomedical Research at least 2 weeks before the meeting. Notify the staff about the meeting deadline and any technical specifics such as poster size, font size, etc. The graphic artists (Linda Matenky and Nicole Bolda), will assist you in arranging and developing the poster and printing a proof. The poster will undergo scientific review by the Director of Scholarly Inquiry or designee; examine the proof carefully for errors and incorporate any changes indicated by the scientific review. Consider bringing business cards and corrected proof copies of the poster with you to the meeting to give out.
Jeffrey C. Flynn, PhD
Director of Scholarly Inquiry
Nicole Bolda, CIP
IRB Administrator and Graphic Artist