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Tips for Designing an Effective Academic Poster

April 25, 2019
By GradProSkills


If you are doing research, there is a very good chance that at some point in graduate school, you will need to develop an academic poster. A poster exhibition event is a popular communication method used in academia. It allows you to visually communicate your work to a wide audience, ranging from specialists in your field to the general public.

This method of communication provides an overview of your research, and it must be concise. Usually, your professor or the event organizers will define certain rules for your poster design pertaining to size, content or layout. Beyond these rules, you have the freedom to make it dynamic for your audience and unique to your preferences. We’re here to share with you some trusty tips to keep in mind when you let your creativity meet your research, and design your academic poster.

Deciding on your Content

  • The content must be a concise overview of your research
  • The content you chose to display on your poster must include: a catchy introduction, a short abstract/summary, objectives, methodology, key results, conclusions, references and your contact information
  • To help you decide which parts of your research to include, ask yourself the following: if your audience is to remember one piece of information about your research from your poster, what should it be? Whatever you answer to this question, focus on this point and add another 1-2 supporting arguments
  • The word limit is generally 800 words

Layout Tips

  • Use columns
  • The title should be specific, short, centered, and in large font
  • Show hierarchy of information through bolding, increasing font size, and dominant colors
  • For easier readability, use sans serif fonts for the title and serif fonts for the body
  • Use bullet points and numbering where possible
  • Your poster should be made up of 40% white background space
  • Your poster must be readable from 10 feet away
  • You can use a PowerPoint template or find free templates online – or design your own!
  • Make sure to know the required size and orientation (portrait or landscape) of your poster as this will influence your layout - set the size of your document before working on it

Play with Colors  

  • Chose a color scheme that is relevant to your research (ex. using green and blue for oceanography research)
  • Stick to 2-3 harmonious colors
  • Limit the use of contrasting colors to 1-2 and only use for emphasis
  • The background should be white or a muted color
  • Check out to find suitable color schemes to match desired visuals for your poster

Graphics are important

  • Your poster must have graphic content that is valuable to the information you’re trying to communicate, including: photos, graphs and tables
  • Make visuals the focus of your poster, but maintain a reasonable balance to the content
  • Simplify graphs and tables (people are viewing it fast and you want them to immediately understand the point you’re trying to convey)
  • Make sure to caption your visuals

Before you begin: Brainstorm

  • Brainstorm how you can visually represent your research
  • Ask yourself: What is the core idea of your research (research question, results, methodology) that you could communicate visually?
  • What is some graphic content (photos, graphs or tables) that you could include on your poster, and that would help people connect to your idea?
  • Sketch out your idea on paper before sitting in front of your computer

Presenting your poster

  • If you will be able to present your poster, have a prepared 2-minute pitch ready for audience who are drawn in by your incredible visuals!
  • Be friendly and welcoming
  • Pique the interest of your audience with a hook (an intriguing question or statement that will pique their interest)
  • In your pitch, be sure to include the topic of research, the problem/issue/question you’re addressing, and how your work connects with broader conversations about this topic in the field
  • Build a narrative around your research - be more thorough and in depth in case they ask you further questions
  • As the audience may not necessarily be comprised only of academics or professions in the field, check for the audience’s understanding - ask them if they understand, if you’re being clear and if they want to know more
  • Dress for the occasion: business casual
  • Think about preparing handouts with more information about your research, with your contact information on it. However, make sure to pitch them before giving the handout so they take the time to hear about your work from you first.
  • Welcome all feedback and critiques – presenting your academic poster is an incredible learning experience for all academics!


To learn more about designing an academic poster, join these upcoming GradProSkils workshops in May: 


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