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Communicating Your Chemical Research

Resources, tips and advice for writing, publishing, presenting and organizing your research. Also, information on Open Access, copyright, and author's rights.

Why Posters?

Posters are snapshots of your work and are meant to engage your colleagues in discussions about your work.  So decide on the purpose of your poster.  What do you want people passing your poster to do:

  1. Engage colleagues in discussion about the content?
  2. Go off and try things on their own?
  3. Form collaborations with you?
  4. All of the above, or something totally different?

The point is you need a purpose and it needs to be clearly visible in 10 seconds or less!

Derived from: Erren, T. C.; Bourne, P. E., Ten Simple Rules for a Good Poster Presentation. PLoS Comput Biol 2007, 3 (5), e102. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030102

Tips for Your Poster Handout

1. Provide a shrunken version of your poster that fits on an 8.5" by 11" standard piece of paper.  Include key references and contact information.

2. Summarize key points with figures, key references and provide your contact information.

3. Pin a stack of business cards to your poster board.

During the Poster Session


  1. Dress professionally.
  2. Color coordinate with your poster.  You are part of the presentation.
  3. Have a 1 sentence  summary of your work and why it's important.
  4. Wear your name tag.
  5. Talk to your visitors, not your poster or a notes sheet.
  6. Thank your visitors


  1. Drink.  Alcohol may be provided, but wait until after the poster session.
  2. Chew gum or tobacco.  It's distracting.
  3. Put your hands in your pockets.
  4. Be vague.  Don't say "This figure shows our main results."  Say "We found that..." Fill in the ... with whatever it was that you found.
  5. Fake answers to questions.  People can tell.  Just say something like "That's an interesting question, but I'm not prepared to answer it at this time."

More Dos and Don'ts from Purrington, C.B. Designing conference posters. Retrieved November 21, 2011.

Guides for Creating Posters (see additional books / e-books below)

Visual Grammar of Posters

Good posters have unique features that papers don't have.  For one, they need to be viewed from a distance, but can take advantage of your presance and ability to explain content.  Format and layout are critical.  Content is also very important, but keep it concise.  Posters should have some of your personality as well.  Remember you are part of your work.  So...What are features of a good poster?  Let's consider the layout first.

This example has developed a visual grammar to that helps readers identify the most important parts of the poster.  It uses a top to bottom and left to right orientation.  Remember that English is read from top to bottom and left to right.  Follow this organization when designing your poster, if it is in English.  Your poster will seem illogical if you don't.  The name, institution and title run across the entire top.  Columns proceed from top to bottom and left to right.  This poster also used organizational cues in the form of numbers to guide readers.

Another thing to consider is balance between text, images, and white space. Contrary to sometimes popular belief, white space on a poster is OK.  Consider the following example of  layouts.

Since headings are important in establishing the layout and symmetry of the poster, let's consider their purpose now.


  1. Summarize your work in large letters.
  2. Part of the visual grammar that guides people through your poster.
  3. Should be hierarchical.  The more important the heading, the larger the font.
  4. Can be bold and make the strongest statements your research allows.

The following example of a poster from NC State shows good use of headings.

The above poster also makes use of graphics.  Let's consider those next. Graphs, photos, and/or illustrations are the eye catchers of your poster. 

Graphics should:

  1. Communicate relationships quickly.
  2. Be simple and clean.
  3. Contain their explanations within the graphic, not referenced somewhere else.
  4. Use color if your printing budget permits!

The differences between a good graph and a not-so-good graph are illustrated below.

The No! graph is complicated and messy.  The dark background and gridlines distract from the axes labels and number values.  The leged is too small and not part of the graph itself.  And the text is too small to read.  The Better! graph got rid of the dark background and gridlines.  It also increased the font size and changed the light yellow color to a darker color.  The different lines are clearly labeled, so there is no need for a legend and the axes lables and values are clearly visible now. 

Text should be simple, direct, and large.

A few hints about text on your poster.

  1. Try to minimize the amount of text on your poster.  Think of ways to use graphs or other images to represent your text.
  2. Keep text blocks to 50 words or less.
  3. Use the active voice.
  4. Avoid jargon.
  5. Left-justify your text.
  6. Use a serif font like Times because it's easier to read.
  7. A sans-serif font like Helvetica is OK for titles and headings.
  8. Use at least 24 point font in text and 36 for headings.

As mentioned above you should use color if your printing budget allows.  But, you should use it purposefully.

Use color to:

  1. Attract attention.
  2. Organize information.
  3. Emphasize information.

Some general color tips:

  • Use contrast.  Dark letters on light backgrounds work well.  Light letters on dark backgrounds can be hard to read.
  • Stick to a color theme of 2-3 colors.  Be consistent in their use.
  • Remember that overly bright (hot pink) can tire readers' eyes, so they won't look at your poster. 
  • Use a tool like ColorBrewer to find colorblind safe palettes.

Finally, when you think you've got your poster ready, present a small scale version you can print on one page at group meeting.  Then edit, edit, and edit some more. 

Derived from Hess, G.R.; Tosney, K.; and Liegel, L. Creating Effective Poster Presentations. 2010. Visited 11/21/11