‘Ten top tips’ for designing a research poster

Rebekah J White (she/her) is an evolutionary biology and genetics PhD researcher in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Exeter. Her current project involves exploring the genetic basis of ageing, late-life disease, and lifespan extension in nematode worms, using a range of laboratory-based techniques. Her previous work has included emerging zoonotic diseases and transmissible cancers. Rebekah has a passion for communicating research both to the public and to researchers in other fields through many mediums, including podcasts, social media, and interdisciplinary conferences. She co-delivers the Designing Effective Research Posters course for the Exeter Doctoral College. Twitter: @rebekah_jwhite

Shahan Choudhury (he/him) is an Applied Linguist and a postgraduate researcher in Education. His PhD focuses on children’s and teachers’ understanding of English grammar in reading and writing contexts and how grammar is used. He is a part-time lecturer in Academic English at Anglia Ruskin University. At Exeter, he co-delivers Designing Research Posters, Writing Journal Articles and Academic Writing. His aim is to help others improve their reading and writing through the understanding of grammar.

 


If you are considering designing a research poster, get started with the ten top tips below developed by the Designing Effective Research Posters skills training leads.

  1. The key aim of a research poster is to summarise research results in a concise and attractive Always keep this point at the forefront of your mind during the design stage. Totally stuck for ideas? Have a look at some research posters online, or perhaps stroll through some University buildings which sometimes have them up, such as the hallways of Hatherley or Washington Singer on Streatham.
  2. One of the most important stages is planning and thinking things through. Ask yourself the following questions – having clear answers to these questions will help you throughout the design process.
    1. Why am I doing this poster?
    2. What is my core message?
    3. Perhaps most importantly – What do I want to achieve (e.g., sparking discussion, networking, attracting funders)?
  3. Try and first design a draft outline of your poster. Start with a blank sheet of paper/open up a new PowerPoint slide and jot down the following titles, along with bullet points on what will be included in each section: Background/ introduction, Aims, Methods, Results and Conclusion. Make sure you include…
    1. The university logo (and funders’ one, if applicable), which you can access from here: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/departments/communication/communications/design/downloads/
    2. Your name with an asterisk, and others that contributed to the project
    3. Contact information of all contributors
    4. References
  4. Adapting your message to your audience: If your audience is all within your discipline, how would you change what you say, for example for an interdisciplinary conference? Think about things you would need to do to make it accessible for each audience.
  5. Think about language. This will depend on your audience – will it be interdisciplinary, field-specific, or industry-based? Spending time on what you write is just as important as you are looking to communicate your research in an easy-to-understand manner. Do think about:
    1. The words you will use. How much / what jargon is appropriate?
    2. Sentence length – short is preferred!
    3. Keep it formal
    4. Keep explanations as simple as possible
    5. When using images and diagrams, are they self-explanatory, or is a little annotation needed?
  6. Looks matter: How will your poster look? Make sure to check on specific conference requirements for layout or size (if there are any). Take care with the design, making sure that:
    1. Font is clear and legible
    2. Images​ are appropriate and relevant
    3. It is not over-crowded
    4. It is not text-heavy
    5. You use colours that complement each other
  7. It takes time! Give yourself plenty of time to work on it – it is fun but can take longer than you think.
  8. Reuse your templates! If you have done steps 1-3 above, you should be well on your way to designing your personalised template. Remember, you can re-use it each time you do a different poster.
  9. The extra flair: Give your poster an edge by adding ORCiD, QR codes, or even a link to a video!
  10. And finally: show your poster to a friend, colleague and family member even, asking them what they think of it – you might be pleasantly surprised at how much you learn by getting other peoples’ views!

We hope this helps. Enjoy getting started with your research poster!

Top Tips for Tweet Your Thesis

Thinking about entering this year’s Tweet Your Thesis competition? We’ve asked last year’s winners for their advice and top tips to help you craft that prize-winning tweet!

 

Ari Cooper-Davis, PGR in the Centre for Water Systems – 1st Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ari’s top tips

  • Assume your audience is not familiar with your subject area, so try to avoid acronyms or subject-specific vocab
  • An eye-catching photo can draw attention. If you’ve not got any you can find freely-usable images on Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay
  • Using whitespace to break up big blocks of text makes it easier to scan, and can make your narrative easier to follow

You can find Ari on Twitter @aricooperdavis

 

Kate Sansum, PGR in the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre – 2nd Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate’s top tips

  • Keep the message clear and simple. Imagine you are explaining your research to a child/teenager as this helps to ensure anyone can understand what your thesis is about
  • Use emojis to help save characters when you are over the limit
  • Add a relevant and engaging GIF or photo to supplement the information in your text

You can find Kate on Twitter @KateSansum.

Thinking about entering 3MT? Here are our top tips.

 

Jennifer is now a third year PhD student in the biosciences department. Jennifer looks at how elevated CO2, commonly found in fish farms, impacts lumpfish growth and behaviour. Lumpfish are farmed to be deployed into salmon pens across the U.K. Jennifer won the UoE 3MT competition in 2019.

 

Isabel Sawkins is a third year PhD student, based in the History Department at Exeter and the International Politics Department at Aberystwyth. Issy’s project investigates the contemporary memorialisation of the Holocaust in the Russian Federation, specifically how it has been represented in museums, film, and education.

 

 

Thinking about entering our 3 Minute Thesis competition? PGRs Jennifer Finlay and Isabel Sawkins, who run our presentation skills training, have developing this infographic with some top tips! Don’t forget to apply online by 30th April!

 

The Joy of Posters! Designing a poster that your audience will want to read

Caroline Nye is a social science researcher at the University of Exeter, having completed her PhD in rural sociology at the Centre for Rural Policy Research. She holds an MA (hons) in Social Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh, a diploma in International Development from London School of Economics (with a focus on environment) and has several years’ experience working on organic farms and in environmental education. She has also spent several years working further afield on international development projects and in industry in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Caroline’s research expertise focuses on agricultural labour in the UK, examining the changes and challenges associated with farm labour in the transition to sustainable intensification. She is also currently working on a research project examining farmer motivations to participate in conservation-focused farmer clusters, as well as working on a project for Defra.

Academic poster presentations are an important method of sharing your research. But in an age where multiple stimuli are constantly competing for our attention, our brain usually decides within seconds if it wants to continue focussing on any one thing before shifting its attention elsewhere. Attracting a captive audience is, therefore, a challenge. Below are ten things to consider in designing a poster that will catch the reader’s eye. If somebody walks away having retained any information about your research, then your poster has had, yes it’s that magic word, IMPACT!

  1. Look upon it as an exciting opportunity. Here is a chance for you to exercise your creativity in a way you may not be able to during other phases of your academic career. Embrace your inner artist, leap outside of the box and brandish your metaphorical paintbrush with pride. Designing a poster should be a fun project which gets your research out there visually and assists you in defining the key points of your project.
  2. Know your audience. If designing a poster for a mixed audience, start by assuming that your audience knows nothing about either your subject or your discipline. Make it easy to understand and use language that won’t have your reader yawning three lines in. If your poster is for a specific event, a sheet stuffed full of technical jargon can still be overkill, so mix it up to ensure your reader is informed whilst being entertained at the same time.
  3. Before you even begin to add any text, play around with some images that might link your research to the rest of the world. Decide whether you want a backdrop image, images dropped between the text, or a combination. Make sure any pictures you use are relevant, interesting and fun. If a picture can tell your reader what your work is about as soon as they walk into a room, then you’re already winning.
  4. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. Many students follow a set format which can often make posters look similar and difficult to remember. Innovative examples of poster design include the use of texture, colour or 3D materials (glasses included). One extraordinary design was completed entirely by hand. Be inspired and you will inspire others.
  5. What information do you want your reader to take away with them. What is NEW about your work and what message do you want to get across to your audience? This is your story. You can choose how you tell it.
  6. You cannot fit your entire thesis on to an A3 sheet. The ability to be concise is key here. Identify the principal goals of the thesis, your methods in brief, KEY findings and MAIN conclusions. This will ensure that your poster retains much needed space for visual aesthetics, making reading it a less daunting task for the innocent passer-by.
  7. Font is key! Don’t assume your reader has 20/20 vision. Try not to make the text any smaller than 24pt, and intersperse this with bigger titles and sub titles. It is fun to play around with font styles but many can be hard on the eye for a poster so plain styles can work better alongside good, strong images.
  8. Check sizing and margins before you print. These is nothing more frustrating than adding the final flourish to your masterpiece and then sending it to the printers and unrolling a mess. Text that pushes right up to the edges and poor quality images might reveal unpleasant surprises on print day.
  9. Print it before presentation day. Leaving the printing until the last minute is a common mistake for any student, be it your poster or your actual thesis! Try to print it at least a day early in case you see any glaring mistakes.
  10. Show up! Accompanying your poster with a smile and some enthusiasm will cast a happy, colourful light over your work as you both hang out there proudly. It is an opportunity to show passion for, and knowledge about, your subject on a friendly one-to-one basis. So enjoy!

Written by: Caroline Nye

Twitter: @curlystem

If you wish to enter PGR showcase full details can be found on the PGR showcase webpage. Deadline to apply is: Sunday 22nd May.

How art can help communicate science

Anna Sowa is a documentary film producer with a strong background in international affairs policy and academic research. After completing her BA in Arabic with International Relations, Anna continued her professional and academic interest in international development at SOAS, University of London where she graduated with a distinction MSc in Migration, Mobility and Development. She is the co-founder of Chouette Films–  an award-winning production company committed to using film as a tool for social change. She is a PhD by practice candidate at the London Film School/ University of Exeter researching the role of the producer in collaborative documentary filmmaking.

A piece of advice that I remember from my school drama teacher years ago, is to always practice and test your acting by performing in front of a young child. If the child stays focused and interested, even without necessarily understanding the piece, then you have successfully achieved a genuinely engaging performance. At the same time, this teacher also used to encourage us to be authentic and to stay genuine to ourselves. I now understand how these two pieces of advice are interlinked. The teacher wanted us to find our own way of expressing each piece, to create a performance which both felt natural and was uniquely captivating. Rather than exaggerated or over-dramatic acting, simply for the sake of being shocking or different, innovative and heart-felt acting is the key to engaging an audience.

Although drama lessons may sit on a very different branch of the arts to academic posters, I still find my old teacher’s advice very meaningful to the process of design.

Firstly, testing your work is of pivotal value to poster design. It may seem like a peculiar choice to start with this focus on testing, because it is often under-estimated as a minor and latter part of the design process. However, from my experience it is crucial to continually test an idea from its conception through to its completion as a final product. Share your ideas with someone who works in your field; share them with a stranger; share them with a child. The more diverse the group, the more well-rounded the feedback. Show them your sketches and scribbles to see what catches their interests. Testing ideas gives you the tools to analyse, reshape and build on your design.

Secondly, authenticity is vital to the meaning and impact of a poster. So, make it personal; make it yours. My work investigates the very role that I play: that of the producer. Since the perspective of my study is self-reflective and my PhD is practice-based, it felt natural for the poster to depict myself in action at a film shoot. From afar, the poster’s graphics resemble a regular film poster. Visually, this creates an instant association of the poster with film, no matter how unfamiliar the viewer may be with the subject matter of my research. It is important to make sure that your individual vision for the project remains integral to your design. Pinpoint the key images that represent your work, and experiment with ways of building graphically around these concepts.

Thirdly, I believe that the golden rule of poster design is “less is more”. The busier the poster, the less comprehensive and compelling. Too many sentences can cloud its meaning. Instead, use headlines and bullet points and let the images speak for themselves. Clear and aesthetically simple designs can be the most powerful. Pick out the key words from your research and strip back any unnecessary jargon, so that your poster communicates to every viewer, even a child.

After all, the simple truth behind academic poster design is that art can support science. Far from being its antagonist, art can enhance the clarity of conceptual scientific descriptions.

Written by: Anna Sowa-  Film PhD by Practice Researcher

Chouette films website
Twitter: @ChouetteFilms

Interested in this year’s competition is open until Friday 20 April, full details about Postgradaute Research Showcase, the poster competition and our other competitions, 3 Minute Thesis and Tweet your Thesis can be found here.

3 Minute Thesis- What made me enter!

Elisabeth is a final year PhD student studying astrophysics. In her research she aims to detect planets orbiting other stars, and understand how these interact with debris dust – similar to the Asteroid and Kuiper belts in our own solar system. When not worrying about writing a thesis, she enjoys running and playing the flute.

 

 

 

I’m in the unusual position of having given three minute pitches of my PhD four times: twice with the University’s Three Minute Thesis competition, and twice through a similar Three Minute Wonder competition run by the Institute of Physics. I was lucky enough to compete in the Three Minute Wonder final, where we spoke at the Royal Institute in London. Having grown up watching the RI Christmas Lectures I was pretty star-struck by that experience – and it’s not every day that you get to speak on the same stage where Faraday and Dirac have delivered lectures.

I would definitely recommend this competition to anyone, since it’s a really unique and exciting way to be able to share your research. For me there have been several clear benefits.

Firstly, it’s opened doors: I’m passionate about science communication, and I’ve been offered science communication opportunities as a direct result of these competitions. In September the IoP invited me to spend a week touring the South West and visiting schools to deliver science talks: I delivered 16 talks, to over 1000 kids, and had a brilliant time in the process. I was also invited to give an academic seminar at Bristol by someone who had seen my 3 minute piece, which is of course useful for forging academic connections.

Secondly, it’s a huge confidence builder. The competition feels like a very high pressure form of presentation because of the precise time limit (and the huge clock!). The first time I performed a pitch, I literally froze in on stage and my brain went blank. That was pretty horrible experience – but by repeatedly going through the process I’ve become much more comfortable presenting my science, which has been hugely beneficial at conferences and when giving seminars. If I had to freeze somewhere, I’d much rather it be at a relatively low-stakes competition like Three Minute Wonder than at a conference where there might be potential employers in the room!

I love my research, and I love talking about all things exoplanets – and events like this have given me more understanding of what the public do and don’t know about my field, and how I can simultaneously make my subject accessible and avoid dumbing it down. I really value that this means I can speak about my work in a more casual setting, and that my friends and family can start to understand what I do with my time. I am also excited by research more generally, and watching the other competitors – and talking to them afterwards – was a fascinating overview of some of the diverse research happening across the university – from microchips to autism.

Finally, I recently had a postdoc interview where the opening question was “So how about you just give me a two minute summary of your research so far?”. Interviews terrify me, and this one was at a very highly ranked university so I was definitely feeling the pressure – but I think managed to get garble a decent two minutes out, and I’m sure that my Three Minute Thesis and Three Minute Wonder experiences helped me to do so. And you know what? I got the job.

Written by: Elisabeth Matthews

Why enter PGR showcase?

I completed my Biological Sciences degree here at Exeter, before continuing on into an MbyRes. I undertook a joint project between Dr Helen Dawe and Dr Isabelle Jourdain here in Biosciences, which has now progressed into a PhD funded by the Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship. My project focuses on ciliopathies, a class of severe diseases caused when your cells signalling antennae – called “cilia” – do not form or function correctly. A ciliopathy patient with a mutation in a mystery protein was discovered back in 2012, and it is my mission to figure out how this mystery protein helps to build cilia!

I think I heard about the PGR Showcase from an email newsletter that circulated around the department. My first thought was that the event was probably only aimed at PhD students. After all, I was only a few months into my MbyRes, and figured that I didn’t really have enough data to present. However when I spoke to my supervisors about it, they told me that I could definitely produce a poster from what I had so far, and that it would be a useful exercise in learning how to present my research. So I decided to go for it!

My poster ended up being about 50% explaining the field, and 50% my own results, so I needn’t have worried about not having enough data. The best advice I received from my supervisor was to take out as much subject-specific jargon as I could, keep it simple, and to make the poster as visual as possible. After all, the showcase is a University-wide event, so I needed to convey (in my case) Biological Sciences research in a way that someone who studies English Literature could understand.

I considered the day a useful learning experience, and just assumed that Best Poster would be awarded to a PhD student. So I was very surprised and grateful when I won best STEMM poster, along with a £250 voucher! I think it’s great that the competition is judged not on the amount of results you have, but on your ability to present your research to an audience who are not familiar with your field (or even your discipline!).

As well as presenting your poster, getting to walk around and have a look at all the other entries was a great opportunity to learn about some of the other PG research that is going on across the University. The competition was also good practice – when I had the opportunity to present my results at a national conference later on that year, I not only already had experience making a poster and organising my results into a story, but also more confidence when explaining my research to people I had just met. I’d really recommend applying, even if you’re a Masters student – you’ll get a lot out of the day, and a shot at a great prize!

Written by: Lauren Adams (1st Year- Biosciencse PhD Student)

Twitter: @L_Adams08
LinkedIn: laurenadams08
Email: lauren.adams@exeter.ac.uk

Postgraduate Research Showcase 2016

Gallery

This gallery contains 6 photos.

From Monday 25th– Wednesday 27th April Researcher Development and Research Services celebrated the work of our vibrant postgraduate community with the annual Postgraduate Research Showcase. Now in its 5th year, the poster competition has gone from strength to strength, this … Continue reading