Advice
for your posters

Alexia Youknovsky is a scientific and technical communication consultant and trainer. Founder of Agent Majeur and previously a chemical engineer, she takes part in projects such as designing and writing scientific posters. In this interview, she shares her experience in this field with us.

Agent Majeur: What is the purpose of a scientific poster?

Alexia Benichou: The poster is a way to be seen and promote your work. It also provides an update on your research and the results obtained. But, not in an exhaustive way since it is neither a scientific article nor a presentation file. When you read a poster, you are standing up and the lack of comfort in this position should be taken into account. The reading duration must be reduced as the reader’s concentration is limited. Given these elements, it seems to me that the purpose of a scientific poster is to raise the reader’s interest enough to make them feel like asking questions, starting a dialogue or, after the poster session, contacting the author.

According to you, what is the most important element of a scientific poster?

To meet its objectives, a poster must first draw attention. Unlike an oral presentation, during which the audience is relatively captive, the author of a poster runs the risk of not being read. Its potential readers are free to do as they please. If they do not stop in front of the poster, all the efforts invested in producing it will be lost. During the poster sessions, competition is harsh. To stand out from the crowd, a poster must raise interest, induce curiosity, and capture attention (test the attractiveness of your poster).

Concretely, this means that the layout of the document must be polished. An attractive poster should have a simple graphic style, no more than 3 colors in addition to the black used for the text. It should be legible without effort from a distance of 1.5 metres, it shouldn’t be loaded with too much text and it should include 2 or 3 thoroughly selected illustrations.

What about the contents?

Obviously, even though the appearance of the poster must be polished, that does not mean the content should be neglected. After working on the general appearance of the poster, special attention should be given to its title. The poster title must be catchy and evocative. It must sum up the objective, the methods and the conclusion of the work presented. It is important to have a specific title that differentiates your poster from other work written on the same theme. Think of the following title: ‘New applications for molecular electrochemistry’. It gives an idea of the subject, of the field. But it lacks accuracy. A better title could be: ‘Molecular electrochemistry to probe the secrets of redox activity’ (Robert and Costentin, 2009) because it is more explicit about the content of the poster (read our titles in science communication).

In addition to the title, a poster is generally organised around the following sections: introduction, objectives, methods, results and conclusion. To avoid being overloaded or too superficial, a poster should include between 250 and 400 words. The ‘Methods’ and ‘Results’ sections being the most important, they should represent 2/3 of the poster.

Bibliographic references are not essential to a poster. However, it could be interesting for an author to have written articles about the subject at hand to mention them. They can help validate the scientific quality of the work.

What style would you recommend for a scientific poster?

Regarding the sentence structure, I recommend favouring simple sentences: subject + verb + complement. And within the sentences position the most important elements at the beginning. It facilitates understanding. A simple sentence includes a limited number of words. Ideally, it should not have more than fifteen words per sentence on average throughout the document. It should be written using a direct style with precise, easy-to-understand words, without pretention.

This is far away from the standards of literary writing standards. Scientific and technical writing is centered on efficiency and effectiveness. The objective of the poster is reached if the targeted audience understands the text and acts accordingly.

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> Scientific poster

> Graphic design

> Written communication

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