Detailed Guidelines for Poster Design

The following are some tips and suggestions for making an effective poster

An overview of the poster concept

A scientific poster is a visual display of figures, tables, and text designed to communicate your research at a scientific meeting.  It is composed of a short title, an introduction to your critical question, an overview of your methods, your major results, and key conclusions.  If all text is kept to a minimum, a person could fully read your poster in 5-10 minutes.

Poster Size Specification: 3 ft wide and 4 ft high

At poster sessions, many posters are presented simultaneously, so you need to compete for audience attention. Your poster should therefore be bold, well designed and attractive, even maybe a bit provocative to catch people's attention. Remember that some people will read your poster when you are not there in front of it. This means that even without explanation, the poster should make sense. This does not mean however that it should be comprehensive, rather it should present a simple story, just like your conference Abstract. Therefore, limit yourself to the key aspects of your work. Some of these tips might be helpful:

1. The easiest way to create a single-piece poster is using the custom settings of Powerpoint or some equivalent.

There are pre-created templates for designing posters in MS PowerPoint. Some of these can be found at

A template of a 3 ft (wide) by 4 ft (Tall) poster is given below:

2. Too much text = loss of audience interest = death of poster

What kills most posters is too much text. Avoid full paragraphs. Bullet points are much better than full sentences. See if you can replace text with something more visually appealing, e.g. a map, a flowchart or a self-explanatory picture. As a general rule, the word count should not exceed 1200 words. A good way to achieve this is to aim for about 1000 words.

A very rough guide
Introduction : 400
Materials & methods : 400
Results : 400
Discussion/Conclusions : 400

References – only include references vital to your work. These should ideally be in much smaller font size than the body text.

Acknowledgments – keep them brief, and use a smaller font size.

You can see a very nice real-life example of how to shift from a text-heavy style to a pleasant graphical style here:

3. Keep it simple

Ask yourself at every step:

Have I used many words instead of a few?

e.g. 'it is likely that climate change may affect bird migration' can be replaced with 'climate change may affect bird migration'

e.g. 'invasion by alien species may be aided by the opening of forest gaps' is an unnecessarily long version of 'forest gaps may aid alien invasions' This is especially useful while presenting results.

e.g. 'Herbivory by butterfly caterpillars was found to be affected by the concentration of secondary compounds in young leaves. An increase in secondary compound concentration led to decreased herbivory.' This is the same as saying 'Secondary compounds in young leaves negatively affect caterpillar herbivory.'

Have I used any jargon?

Jargon is highly technical language, which, chances are, only your supervisor and (some) lab-mates will understand. So replace, for example, 'kleptoparasitism' with 'stealing'. It is much simpler to understand, has fewer syllables, and you will not have to explain it to each person who starts to read your poster.

4. Use consistent formatting

A very useful way of formatting your poster to improve readability and comprehension is to make your poster 'modular'. In other words, having separate boxes for Introduction, Methods etc., with enough separation between the boxes. This allows the audience to skip parts like the methods and go straight to the discussion or conclusion sections. A poster should have a lot of empty space (about 35%).

This does not mean that
  • a. you leave 35% blank and cram the remainder with text
  • b. you should add text to the empty spaces once you finish the poster!
  • c. Avoid using more than:
    • 2 font types
    • 2 font colours
    • 3 font sizes
Too many format changes make the audience focus on the formatting rather than on the content.

Font types
There are two types of fonts: serif fonts like Times New Roman and sans serif fonts (which don't have the small things sticking out at the angles of the letters) like Arial. Serif fonts are easier to read in books and papers. Sans serif fonts are easier to read on screen or on posters. That's why most people prefer using sans serif fonts in posters and PowerPoint presentations.

Font sizes

A rough guide to font sizes
Title: 150 pt
Section headings: 36 pt
Body text: 26 pt

Text justification
Text is easier to read when left justified rather than when justified to the left and the right.

5. Use colour wisely

Posters are basically a visual medium of presenting data, and colour can help draw people to your poster and help you to present your message. However, if used unwisely, colours can make your poster less attractive and more confusing. Colours should be well co-coordinated and their use consistent throughout. For example, be consistent in the colours (and font type/size) used for subheadings. It is better to err on the side of too little colour than too much! The poster shown on the site below shows a judicious use of colour: