Scholars attending conferences use two main formats for presenting new research in draft form to solicit feedback from peers, often before submitting for publication. First, and most common across all fields, is the paper presentation: a shortened version of an article, presented orally, often on a panel with other related papers, and followed by comments from a scholarly peer and/or audience Q&A.
Second, and especially important in the sciences, is the poster session. Posters are mounted in long rows, with presenters standing by at scheduled times. Conference-goers browse, read, and discuss the research. Poster size and format varies, but each poster lays out relevant prior scholarship, research questions, methods, results (often data), and interpretation/claims. Posters, like conference papers, are often drafts of research articles in progress, so peer feedback at this stage can be critical.
Your purpose here is to communicate your research to your peers, pique their interest in your work, provoke conversation, and generate ideas for potential further research.
Do your poster layout in Word, across six vertical 8.5″ x 11″ pages, as in the model below. Print them out and mount them on a standard 22″x 28″ poster board. We’re taping these up on the wall, so no stiff or heavy board. Keep it flat; don’t roll or fold it. If it’s raining, have a large trash bag ready to cover it.
Set margins at 1/2″ to maximize content space. No page numbering. Print in color if relevant to analysis. Use large font of your choice for legibility at arms’ length (print out test drafts, tape them up on a wall, and see what’s readable). Use no more than four different font styles/colors/sizes (title, headers, main text, captions). Bold-face title and section headers. Use professional looking and smooth-reading fonts, i.e., not Comic Sans.
For all other format choices (font choice, size, colors, bullet points, etc.), follow Prof. Collin Purrington’s advice: Designing Conference Posters: DO’s and DONT’s.
Model (from some of my own research):
Content for each section is below. Use these section headers; you may modify them slightly if you wish (e.g., calling the center column Evidence or Discoveries as you see fit).
Title: Bold face, largest font, no italics, no quotation marks. Title should be descriptive, perhaps indicating a key concept or even some element of the claim. It may or may not be two-part with a colon.
Your name & term (Spring 2016): Left justify, just below title.
Prior scholarship: 100 words max. Name key scholars and summarize their relevant claims specifically. As needed, indicate limitations and uses (their questions, concepts, or methods) to set up your research question.
Research question: 75 words max. Identify your specific research question, framed in light of limitations and uses of the above scholarship.
Images & other key sources: 125 words max. Describe key archival sources for the images you researched. Describe the scope of the archive, collection, or source. E.g., a certain date-run of newspapers in a specific database; a specific collection in a digital or physical archive; a set of images reprinted in a museum catalog or art book. You may also describe other key primary sources (texts) or, in some cases, key secondary (background fact) sources if they provide you with evidence for your argument.
Method: 125 words max. (1) Define the parameters of your study, e.g., how you limited your search in the archives, e.g., by date, by random selection, by keywords, by content, etc. (2) Describe your method(s) of analysis, e.g., quantitative methods, visual analytical methods, comparative text/image methods, and any concepts or methods you borrowed from prior scholarship.
Evidence/discoveries: On these two pages (one above the other, forming one central column), arrange your most important visual evidence. Compose it to emphasize your discoveries and claims, e.g., lay it out for comparison/contrast, chronology, center/periphery influence, or other categories of analysis. Include counter-evidence &/or your most difficult evidence. Each image must be high-resolution (no pixilation), scaled correctly (not stretched or squished), color-accurate, and large enough to be legible. Optional: if relevant to your claim, you may also include block quotation of primary-source textual evidence. For each image/quotation, insert a one-line citation of key information, e.g., creator and date; this can be in smaller font.
Note: if you choose, you may weave your Claims/Interpretation section into your presentation of Evidence, using all of the center column and the top half of the right column for these two combined sections; word count remains the same.
Interpretation and claim(s): 300 words max. Summarize your discoveries and articulate your central claim(s) in detail. You may divide this up into sections for clarity and legibility.
Note: if you choose, you may weave your claims/interpretation into your presentation of evidence, using all of the center column and the top half of the right column for these two combined sections; word count remains the same.
Questions for future research: 50 words max. Based on your discoveries and claims, what areas remain for future research, either by you (if you were so inclined) or by someone else?
Acknowledgements: 100 words max. Thank anyone who supported and helped in the process of this research project, including the research, drafting, and revision of the research essay this poster represents. This can be in a smaller font if need be.
Citations: Cite your most important sources in Chicago Bibliography format, in one unified list combining secondary and primary sources. Cite all major collections of primary sources, whether in a subscription database, digital online archive, physical archive, or reprinted in a secondary source. No need to cite images individually unless–e.g., paintings, sculptures, and buildings–they are stand-alone and not part of a collection. Cite key scholarly works you engaged, whether for argument, method, or background fact. This can be in a smaller font if need be.
In-class Poster Sessions
We meet in Eckles Library, MVC, in the main reading room on the ground floor, right-hand side. Presenters should arrive 5-10 minutes early, if possible. We’ll mount the posters on the wall at eye level so all can see them one at a time as we walk though. Then we’ll have Q&A on all posters at once. To prepare for that, read Purrington’s presenting tips and motivational advice.
Dress code, you have decided, is professional casual. What does that mean? Opinions vary. Some good tips: How to Dress for a Conference like a fashionable lady scientist, from KK’s blog, My Laser Boyfriend. Dressing for academia, from the collective blog, Tenure, She Wrote. Academic dresscode (for men), on Raphael Susewind’s blog. And finally, for broader thoughts on clothing style as part of your performance for others, see What not to wear (academic edition), part 2, Rose Findlay’s invited post at The Thesis Whisperer.
For one young neuroscientists’ first experience at a major conference (“meeting”), see “How I learned stop being overwhelmed and love the meeting–or: How (not) to do SfN, part II.”
A = All sections are clear, concise, and direct. All text is clean, professional looking, and readable. All images are clear, legible, and correctly formatted. Minor flaws in either case allowed.
B = One section has significant lack of clarity, exceeds word limit, &/or is vague; OR one area of formatting has significant flaws, e.g., unreadable fonts, busy composition, or serious departure from assigned format.
C = Two major issues, whether in content or in formatting.
D = Three major issues, whether in content or in formatting.
F = Four major issues, whether in content or in formatting.
I may offer + or – overall as variation on the above.
Attendance at all three poster sessions is required; one letter grade penalty for each absence.
All advice above adapted from Collin Purrington, Designing Conference Posters, http://colinpurrington.com/tips/poster-design (accessed 24 March 2016).