Scientific Posters

From Online to On Display

You will face several challenges in moving your projects from a web-based medium to a scientific poster. The two major ones that we will address here are the process of distilling the information gathered over the course of your project in order to create a poster that is both informative and easy to follow, and the basics of designing and building a poster.

I. Theory and Techniques of Creating a Scientific Poster

Some Questions and Answers to Consider:

  1. How does the poster format differ from the website?
    1. A website provides the space for a longer, more detailed narrative. A poster must be concise but still clear in both its narrative and its purpose.
    2. On a website, you can group information into pages, posts, or sections to make clear the types of topics you want your viewer to look at together. On a poster you also need to do this by delineating specific sections and creating a clear flow to the poster.
    3. You can include many images on a website through a photo slide show, video, or by group thumbnail images. Using thumbnails allows your viewer to see several pictures, and also allows them to select the image to see a larger view and more detail. A poster is static; what you see on the single page must convey everything clearly without overwhelming your viewer.
  2. How do you choose what information to present in the poster?
    1. Focus on a specific question or problem.
    2. Present only the information that pertains to your thesis. While background can be helpful, you don’t want to wander too far from your proposed question, your research methods, the results, and your conclusion.
  3. Are they ways that you can alter the information from the website to make it more readily accessible on a poster?
    1. Less text. Rather than paragraphs, include a few brief bullet points that summarize your point.
    2. More visuals. Replace long explanations or complicated tables of numbers with a bar or pie chart. Be sure to give your chart a descriptive title and a legend, if relevant.
    3. Group information. If you can’t use multiple web pages, or scroll down through sections of text, you should still group your information in a recognizable manner. Place all of your results in a single column, or row, or with a box around the information to help delineate that the information should be regarded together.
  4. Visually, how must the layout change from one medium to the other?
    1. Again, consider the points above. Your website can tell a fuller, more detailed narrative than your poster, but the poster must still present your research and findings completely.
    2. Again, less text, more visuals.
    3. Descriptions should be complete, but concise.

Useful Theory and Technique Links:

  1. Advice on designing scientific posters” (Swarthmore College)
  2. Do’s and Dont’s of Poster Presentation” (The American Society for Cell Biology)
  3. Creating Effective Poster Presentations” (North Carolina State University)
  4. Scientific Development Poster Session” (

II. Nuts and Bolts: Creaing the PowerPoint Slide

Setting Up Your PowerPoint Slide:

  1. Open PowerPoint. A new presentation will likely appear automatically when you launch the program; however, if it doesn’t go to File and select New Presentation.
  2. Click on the Slide Layouts button (or go to Format > Slide Layout) and select the Blank slide layout. Click on the Slide Layouts button (or go to View and click on Elements Gallery), again, to hide the layouts .
  3. Set the dimensions for your slide in File > Page Setup. The width should be 48” and the height should be 36”. (You can also reverse these and have a tall poster versus a wide poster.) Note: When you click Okay you we see an error message saying “The current page size exceeds the printable area of the paper in the printer…” just click Okay on the error window to get out of it.

Viewing and Other Set Up Tips:

  1. In Normal view you have a pane on the left with the slides and a comments section on the bottom. I prefer to close both of these sections so that I can have the slide take up the maximum space on the screen. On the left pane, click on the “X” next to Slides | Outline and to close the comments section, simply hover above the three little dots in the middle/top of the pane, click on the three dots (the bar separating the pane from the slide will turn black) and drag the bar down to the bottom of the PowerPoint window.
  2. When working on a specific section of the slide, it is a good idea to keep the zoom at 100% because these posters are four feet by three feet and the screens on your laptops are rather small. There is a Zoom drop down box on your Standard Toolbar (if this Toolbar isn’t showing, go to View > Toolbars and make sure that Standard is checked). Using the Zoom drop down box you can easily change back and forth between 100% and Fit (which makes it so you can see the entire slide on your screen).
  3. Other useful things:
    1. I like to work with the Formatting toolbar on, as well (also under View > Toolbars), because it allows you to easily change the font, font size, alignment, bullets, etc.
    2. I also usually turn on the Rule (View > Ruler), which is useful to see how large an element is, or to format the alignment–like a hanging indent–in a text box.
    3. The Guides (View > Guides > Static Guides) are helpful in aligning elements on the page. When you first turn on the guides there will be one vertical and one horizontal. To add more guides, simply hold down the Option key on the keyboard and then click and drag one of the current guides.
    4. If you don’t like toolbars at the top of your page, you can always add the Toolbox from the Standard Toolbar (or View > Formatting Palette). This floating Toolbox that you can move around your workspace contains the Formatting Palette, the Object Palette and the Custom Animation tab (plus some other features). These offer lots of options for formatting your background, text boxes, auto shapes, inserting pictures, clip art, etc. The first tab (with the A) is the formatting tab, then the next is the Object Palette (with the little picture and a + sign) and the next is the Animation tab (with the star).

Text: The title of your poster, abstract, methodology, analysis, conclusion, references, and any other textual information can be made in a Text Box. Text should be as concise as possible. A poster is not a paper; you do not want a lot of text. Consider using images and/or charts to show your findings rather than long verbal explanations. Make the text large enough (~48 pt.) so that people can easily read the font.

Creating a Text Box:

  1. Click on Text Box button in the Standard Toolbar at the top of your window. Once you click on the button, you then have to click and drag on the slide to get the Tex Box to appear. Once the Text Box is on the slide, I recommend typing some dummy text so that you can easily find the box while you are formatting it.
  2. You may have trouble resizing the Text Box when you first insert in onto your slide. If so, select the Text Box, go to Format > Shape and on the Text Box tab make sure that under Autofit you choose Do not autofit. This will allow you to resize the Text Box as needed regardless of the amount of text.Drag the textbox to where you want to place the text.
  3. If you have your Formatting Toolbar on (remember it is under View > Toolbars > Formatting), set the font type, size, and alignment. It is best to use a simple font like Arial or Times New Roman.
  4. The title and any headers should be centered, while paragraphs should be justified. The jagged right edge of left-aligned paragraphs creates an uneven, visually displeasing effect.
  5. Type or copy-paste the desired text into the textbox.
  6. If copy-pasting from several documents with different fonts, use Edit > Paste Special and choose Unformatted Text.

III. Nuts and Bolts, take two: Creating the Keynote Slide

Setting Up Your Keynote Slide:

  1. Open Keynote. When the Theme Chooser appears, select your theme (or choose White for the time being, you can change the background color later). Then click Choose.
  2. To set up the page for the correct dimensions, go to the upper right hand corner of the toolbar and click on Inspector (or go to View > Show Inspector).
  3. When the Inspector panel comes up, select the first icon on the left (it looks like a blank page), called Document.
  4. On the Document tab, go to drop down box under Slide Size and choose Custom Slide Size. Change the Width to 3456 pixels by Height 2592 pixels (that will create a poster that is 48 inches wide by 36 inches high, if you want a poster that is 36 inches wide by 48 inches high, just reverse the values for width and height). Click Okay.