Designing Your Research Poster

When presenting your work at a public research conference, such as the Purdue Undergraduate Research Conference or Fall Expo, you need to think about how to communicate your ideas most effectively. Not only should you be prepared to answer questions and talk about your research, you also need to have a visually effective and functional poster. Whether you’ve already created a poster project for class or you’re converting a different style of project for presentation on a poster, there are a few things you need to consider as you get ready to present your work at a public venue.

1) Who will be viewing and reading my project?

Your poster, much like other research genres, will have multiple audiences. You may present to a student one minute and a dean the next, so your project should be clear and readable for a broad audience. At the OUR research conferences, you can expect the following audiences:

  1. Students, faculty, and administrators from ICaP and from other departments and colleges will view your work. University administrators also often stop by the URC.
  2. Volunteer judges from across the university and from withing ICaP will evaluate your presentation.
  3. Fellow students who are attending the conference or symposium as part of a class requirement or for extra credit may stop by and ask questions or take notes.
2) How much space will I have to display information?

Poster sizes vary per discipline, but conference organizers typically indicate the required size, and you should never bring a poster that is larger than the dimensions indicated by the conference organizers or website. For the Undergraduate Research Conference or Fall Research Expo, your poster should be either 3′ wide x 4′ high (portrait) OR 3′ wide x 2′ height (landscape) due to space restrictions. Posters that vary from these sizes will be removed, so make sure you keep your sizes correct. (You can print large-format posters in WALC and HIKS. See below for more.)

3) How much information do I want to include on my poster?

All you need is a formal, printed poster; exactly what you include on your poster is up to you. However, think carefully about the public audience who will be viewing your work. The idea is to give guests a visually-oriented overview of the project, allowing them to “get” the project quickly and easily. Typically, a research poster highlights key research questions or findings, and it may represent the research process visually in a number of ways: through relevant images, selected quotes, or forms of data visualization. Don’t include everything – focus on what is important and what the audience needs to understand the project.

Here are a few things to consider when designing your poster:

  • What details do your readers need to know about your project?
  • How can you organize these details into sections on your poster that are easy to understand?
  • How will your visual organization mirror or differ from the organization of your written project?
  • What should you include on your poster that will distinguish it from the others?
  • What makes your project unique?
  • How will you prioritize the information you’ll include on your poster? Consider highlighting major points or interesting facts with bold text, colors, or appropriate graphics.
  • Where do you want the viewer’s eye to go first? The eye is naturally drawn to the greatest amount of contrast or the largest text.
  • How do you lead the viewer through the display? How long will it take them to figure out what your project is about?
4) How do I make my display visually pleasing and functional?

If you just reprint your paper on a poster, it won’t get much attention. How can you use the poster to visualize the project? Consider how people approach and read over a poster versus an essay. Remember, your text should be readable from a few feet away!

Here are a few quick tips on designing research posters:

  • Text: Too much text will be daunting. Too many graphics can be distracting. Try to communicate main ideas, motivations, and findings. You can fill in the smaller details if your audience has questions.
  • Color: Like text, too much or too little color can hinder the legibility of your project. Choose just a few colors that fit the themes of your project. Try to use colors to highlight information. That is, make them meaningful; don’t add colors just to add them.
  • Distance: Make sure that your audience can see important headings, facts, and graphics from a fair distance. Stand back from your display—can you read the title? Can you easily skim subheadings? Are pictures and charts clear?
  • Consistency: make sure the look of your text and graphics is somewhat consistent. For example, don’t use a different font for every section, or a different color for every heading—you’ll overwhelm your audience’s eye.
5) What additional design resources are available for me to use?

For more information on design, see the following: 

Your English instructor, or a tutor at the Writing Lab, can also be valuable resources in helping design your poster.

6) Where can I get feedback on my display?

Your current or previous ICaP instructor should have great suggestions for your work. The Writing Lab can also work with both the text and the visual aspects of your display. Make an appointment to meet with a consultant in the Lab at any stage of your project, from getting started in your display to final revisions.

7) How do I print my poster?

You can print research posters on wide format printers in WALC and HICKS. To print research posts on these printers, you must use the PaperCut service (and must load extra money to the service through your BoilerExpress account. Your allotted print credits cannot be applied to print wide format posters). The WALC wide format printers cost $4 per foot. So, for example, a 36″ x 24″ poster is $8. See more on the Teaching and Learning Technologies website.

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