Designing to Tell a Story
Tell a story:
A good poster should tell a story. Arrange your layout (and your writing) as a narrative. Tell the reader the story of your research. Engage them.
You can use traditional sections (methods, results, etc.) or non-traditional ones. It's your poster - figure out what organization will convey your message best.
Wordy vs. succinct:
Keep the writing short and simple. Bulleted lists are good. You cannot include every detail. Concentrate on the big picture.
Graphs and illustrations:
Illustrations can make results easier to understand and add visual interest to the poster.
The title should be a banner across the top, large enough to be visible very far away.
Author and affiliations:
These should go under the title, in smaller font.
Headings should be 36-45 point. Most text should be readable from several feet away.
Experiment with different fonts to see what you think is clear and readable.
Use color to bring things out and add visual interest, but don't randomly color words throughout the poster.
There are lots of websites where you can download poster templates. This will probably give you better results than trying to do it yourself.
Arranging the space:
Group things into columns or boxes.
Lots of white space looks better than crowding, even if you have to cut content.
Serving multiple audiences:
You can have sidebar boxes with titles like "assay details" or "likelihood derivation" or "item coding methodology" for the geeky in-field readers.
If you use individual sheets:
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- Put the title in the largest font you can on the top left sheet or find a way to make a banner.
- Try to make each sheet stand alone as a section or figure rather than making things run over multiple sheets.
- It works well to use PowerPoint and make the whole thing look like a PowerPoint talk.
Writing for your Poster
Anatomy of a Standard Experimental Paper
This is not necessarily useful on a poster.
You might call this section "rationale" on a poster. Why did you do this work? What important question was not answered in the previous literature?
Materials and Methods:
Who were the study subjects? How were they collected? What experimental or observational methods were used? What statistical methods were used?
Describe the raw results of the experiments/analyses described above. Include a little reminder of the methods and a short interpretation of the results.
This is where you interpret the results. Then, discuss whether you answered the question you started with, what open questions remain, what limitations your work has, and finally, why your work is important.
Elements of a General-Audience Introduction
Results vs. Discussion
What is the disease/public health problem you are studying?
What is the prevalence or importance of this problem?
What is the relevance of your field to studying/solving this problem?
What previous research has been done (no jargon)?
What are you doing (in lay terms)?
- You can decide how much interpretation goes into results and how much into discussion.
- Sometimes all interpretation goes into discussion, and sometimes discussion is just overall conclusions.
- If you have no interpretations at all in the results section, you may leave the reader thinking, "so what?"
Methods vs. Results
- Separating methods and results is very artificial. Ideally, a paper would tell a story, so that you would say, "I wanted to know the answer to question x, so I did experiment y, and the results were z. Next, I wanted to know the answer to question w..."
- Since the standard format forces you to separate methods and results, you usually try to give some hint of the "story" in the methods section (i.e. some hints of what question you were using each method to answer). Then in results, you tell the story more completely, with a reminder of the methods.
- Since this is a poster, no journal is telling you what format to use, and you can tell the story in whatever way you think is most logical
Audience, Audience, Audience
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- Know who your audience is and have them in mind with every word you write.
- For Dean's Day, you have a general public health audience. They will not know the terminology of your field. They probably won't even know what the point of your field is!
- For a general audience poster, it often makes sense to use half or even more of the poster space just to explain the rationale for your work.
- With good design and titles, you can have different parts of the poster aimed at different audiences.
Non-standard Section Headings
In many fields, the standard format is just inappropriate. Section examples from statistical methods papers:
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- Standard Estimate and Replicate Pool Estimate
- Hybrid Estimate
- A Simple Statistic for Discordant Sibling Pairs
- Application to GAW 10 Data
- Improvements to the Composite Statistic
- Notation and Likelihood Function
- Method for Finding the MLE of p
- Method for Finding Confidence Intervals
- Data Example
Do's and Don'ts of a Good Poster
Don't Use the Passive Voice
Don't Be More Technical Than You Need to Be
- Don't say "was done" or "was studied." Say who did it. The passive voice is hard to read and obscures information.
- Bad: "The relationship between availability of smoking cessation programs and campus cigarette sales was previously studied." By whom? How does that relate to this study?
- Good: "We previously studied the association between the availability of smoking cessation programs and cigarette sales on three other college campuses."
Don't Use Excessive Abbreviations
- A certain level of formality is required in scientific presentations, but your audience will thank you for simple, clear writing.
- If you find yourself using the word "utilize", you should look hard at all the rest of your writing.
Do Say What You Think. Be Honest, Diplomatically
- Abbreviations don't help unless the reader can read and understand them more easily than the unabbreviated words. To evaluate this, you need to think about your audience.
- Use common ones, but don't define tons of new ones, and don't even bother if the unabbreviated expression is pretty short.
- Bad: "We used panels of GWA SNPs to find QTLs for AD and AOO."
- Good: "We used genome-wide SNP panels to find QTLs for Alzheimer's disease and for age of onset."
Do Edit, Edit, Edit
- If your results are inconclusive, you must say so. Good science means saying what you know/think, not coming up with a yes or no answer.
- Bad: "Our results prove that ABCA1 causes Alzheimer's disease."
- Bad: "Some studies show an association and some don't so we have no idea what is going on or what our results mean."
- Good: "...the reported association studies, although inconsistent, suggest that either ABCA1 or nearby genes in this region harbor functional SNPs for AD."
Edit your writing. Check every sentence and every paragraph for simplicity, clarity, and appropriateness for the audience. Get rid of every word that is unnecessary.
Now do it again.
Every time you revise, edit the whole thing from beginning to end and make sure everything still flows logically.
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