Science posters:
get it right

Are we beginning to see a bit of a revolution in science posters? As a great way to build your notoriety and promote your research, posters can inform others of developments in your work and results you have obtained. They are used to help you reach a wider audience, including those who are not necessarily specialists in your field. If you are hoping to instigate a discussion with your peers, your poster should bring together various features. Let’s take a look at some of them!

A science poster is neither an article, nor a presentation document. It is a summary of your work. Hence, the challenge is double-sided: you must be both concise and imaginative. A poster will be read whilst stood up. Since this is not exactly the most comfortable position, you need to take this into account. This means the time required to read your poster should be reduced as the concentration level of readers is low. It should make passers-by want to ask you questions and open a dialogue.

Improve visual appeal

Above all, a poster must be attractive if you hope to achieve these objectives. Contrary to a spoken presentation, during which the audience is relatively captivated, reading a poster is not imposed. Potential readers are free to roam and stop in front of any poster they choose. All the efforts invested in making it will have been for nothing if you can’t immediately catch their attention. During poster sessions, competition with your fellow poster-makers is tough. To stand out, a poster should stand out, make people curious and catch their attention.

To do this you need to put some effort into the way your poster looks. An aesthetic poster will have a simple graphic design, be split into sections to make it easier to read and use contrasting colours. A good poster can be read without effort from a distance of around 1.5 metres away. It will also have as little text as possible and use 2 to 3 good illustrations, which speak for themselves. At Agent Majeur, we have designed a simple test in 8 questions to measure the attractiveness of a science poster.

Choose a title with impact

Whilst the style may be important, so is the content. In particular, the title must be sufficiently clear. It should also be catchy and punchy. It should summarise the objective, methods and results of the work presented, in no more than 1-2 lines. It is important to have a title that is specific, which helps your poster stand out from others on the same topic.

Imagine the following title, “New applications for molecular electrochemistry”. It gives an idea of the subject, but it lacks precision. A better title would be “Using molecular electrochemistry to reveal to secrets of redox reactivity” (Robert and Constentin, 2009). The second title is more explicit about the content of the poster (read more advice about writing a title here).

Get to the point

Under the title, the text must highlight the objectives of the project, methodology used, and results obtained, then the conclusion. The “methods” and “results” sections are the most important and should take up around 2/3 of the page. To avoid having too much or too little, bear in mind that a poster should contain somewhere between 250-450 words.

It is worth noting that bibliographies are not obligatory on a poster. However, as an author yourself, having no doubt written articles on the subject you are presenting, it would be in your best interest to mention them. They will help validate the scientific quality of your work.

Lighten your style

You should favour simple sentences because they make the text easier to understand. Try using this formula: subject-verb-complement (e.g. “eat your dinner”). Each sentence should be as short as possible. Ideally, no more than 15 words. You should use a direct writing style, with words that are as precise as possible, but still easy to understand and non-pretentious.

The most important elements should appear at the beginning of the sentence. Scientific and technical writing is based on efficiency. The total opposite of literary writing. The objective of a poster is achieved if the target audience understands the main message behind the research presented.

Interactive posters: a new trend?

Touchscreens have begun to make their way into scientific symposiums and conferences as an interactive form of poster. They can be used to present researchers bios, their results and information on their laboratories. In addition, they provide an opportunity to enrich presentations with multimedia content: sound, videos, animation and weblinks.

Installed in a room, interactive screens provide a new way of holding a poster session. Each speaker can do their presentation next to a screen whilst engaging dialogue with participants. It’s a more inclusive experience than a series of printed posters. Last year we designed interactive posters for a prize award ceremony. In the cocktail area at the event, several touchscreens were made available around room for guests to enjoy at their leisure.

With screens like this, the public also gain in autonomy. They can consult each person’s screen for longer, find a more diverse range of information in them and call upon the researcher whose poster it is if needed. This means the speaker doesn’t have to stay near their poster, as is often the case in standard sessions. They can usually move to any screen. Meaning they can start a discussion by the buffet table and use the nearest touchscreen available to talk something through.

These tools bring in a modern touch, but they also help to enrich the exchanges between researchers. Whilst classical poster sessions are unlikely to disappear, interactive posters is nonetheless gaining ground in the coming years.

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