Pointing to advice on making better scientific posters

The meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists are coming next month, and students and professionals are starting to prepare their poster presentations. On that subject, some good advice on posters from Jeremy Fox: The big mistake almost every scientific poster makes.

Your poster doesn’t need an abstract–it is an abstract. Your poster’s introduction can just be a bullet point. (Or the equivalent amount of text, if you’re not into bullet points.) Maybe two or three. “Here’s my question” is one bullet. “Here’s why that question is worth asking” is maybe a couple of bullets. Same for your methods: typically, a few bullets is all you need, especially if you also have a picture of whatever it is you did. Your results should just be big figures, with the figure title or some other clear labeling conveying the big take-home message of each figure. Your discussion/conclusions can just be a few bullets too. Text on a poster is like minimalist flower arranging: put all the flowers in the vase that you think should be there, then take most of them away.

The big mistake is too much text. You don’t need much text!

Also, everyone should know about Better Posters, Zen Faulkes’ blog with regular posts on how to present your scientific work visually. Let me reinforce the main message of this post with a link back to a Better Posters classic: Abstract abolition!

Why, oh why, would you ever put an abstract on a poster?
Abstracts are useful things for scientific papers: they allow you to get the gist of a story and figure out if the whole paper is worth reading. They are useful for conference booklets for the same reason.
But if you’re standing at a poster... you don’t need to look at an abstract to whether to look at the poster. You can look at the poster itself.

Also, consistently good advice: You do not have to follow anybody’s rules for your poster! Not the conference rules, not your institution’s rules. Nobody is checking the rules.

I would add, if you want people to take away text from your poster, then provide a take-away with the text you want them to have. It’s a lot cheaper to run copies than to print a poster.