Research poster presentations
Clare Bates Congdon
Department of Computer Science
Okay, so you're going to a conference (or another event) and have to present
your research as a poster. Here are some tips.
(Note: These tips are geared towards students doing research in machine
Your poster should include a clear statement of the following. (Depending on
your project, you will not need of all 4, 5, and 6):
Your poster should likely also include sections on:
- The project title
- Your name(s)
- Including everyone who worked on the project and faculty advisors
- Including institutional (and possibly departmental) affiliations
- Including contact information, such as an email address
- The goals of your project
- Ideally, you should be able to express in a sentence what the
goals of your project are.
- Background on your data or domain
- This section orients the reader to the problem you're working on and
what other people have done before you that is related.
- A description of your system design
- This section describes the major components of your system and how
they work together. If you used open-source or other components that you
did not write yourself, make sure that what YOU did is clear.
- Background on your approach and research methodology
- This section describes how you've chosen to approach this
problem. If your research involves experiments (e.g., to compare system A
to system B), this is the section where you outline your experimental
design. This includes things like system parameters for running the
- Results of your work
- What you observed; try to avoid analysis here
- Here's where you explicate what the results mean
- Future Work
- Where should this project go from here? (One way to look at this
section is that your work has limitations, and there's ways it could
be made stronger.)
Consider the your audience when approaching all of these. Is your audience
specific to a subfield of Computer Science? Is your audience a more general CS
crowd? Even more general than that? It may be helpful to think of the specific
people who should be able to understand your poster, such as researchers in a
specific area, general CS professors, fellow students, or your parents. You
need to identify your audience in part because you have to explain some things
and leave out others. Also, of course, the language you use will vary with the
- References (to salient related work)
- Acknowledgements (the folks or funding agencies who helped you)
More Specific Content and the Design of Your Poster
It's likely that you want to first focus on the content of your poster before
you jump into the design.
Some thoughts about content:
Some thoughts about layout:
- One of the tricks to creating a good poster is that you don't have that much
space, so you have to leave a lot of detail out. (Sorry, but you have
to leave out lots. It's just a poster.) Try to identify your "golden nugget":
the one most important piece of information you'd like someone to walk
- Similar to outlining a paper, you'll want to identify the major sections
of your poster, probably drawn from the lists above.
- In order to make everything fit, you'll need to plan out how much "real
estate" you're going to devote to each major section. Your results and
conclusions should likely have the most space devoted to them, but you
need to include enough background that people can follow you.
- Plan on having one or more
illustrations, either to illustrate your approach or results or just to
draw people in. Depending on your project, this might include things like
screenshots, graphs of your results, snippets of your data, or
abstractions of your system design. (You might also choose to include a
graphic that merely relates to the topic of your data or project to help
connote your project to folks walking by, but don't give this a lot of
Some thoughts about fonts:
- Try to write the content first, just in straight text, with perhaps each
major piece (section or graphic) on a separate piece of paper.
- The conference venue is likely to establish a maximum size for the
poster, and might or might not have instructions about whether the poster
is horizontal (wider than tall) or vertical (taller than wide).
- Beyond that, you have a lot of leeway about the design, including:
- How many columns you're breaking information into.
- How wide the columns are. Note that multiple columns don't have to
be the same width.
- Where you break the columns, for example you can use a box that
spans two columns.
- Color schemes.
- It can be helpful to just loosely arrange those pieces of paper on a
table or the floor to see how things fit together. Unlike a paper,
there's not a strict linear order you have to observe in a poster, although
the content will generally work its way from the project goals in the upper
left to the conclusions and future work in the lower right.
Some thoughts about color:
- Ideally a person with normal vision should be able to read your poster
from a couple of feet away.
- 22-point Arial text seems to work well; Helvetica is also fine. (Favor
something with clean lines and a large "x height", which means the
size of a lowercase x as compared to an uppercase X.)
- If you insist on using your favorite fancy font, consider using it for the
section headings only, and not for the main text; many fancy fonts are
harder to read.
- FYI: There are approximately 72 points in an inch. The point size refers
to the distance between the top of the ascenders (the lines that go above
that lower-case x) and the descenders (the lines that go below that
Some thoughts about images:
- This is not the place to make bold statements about your artistic
abilities. Good typography helps express the message, and doesn't
distract the reader from it. For example, patterned backgrounds might look
really cool, but they can make the text hard to read.
- Having a color scheme is a good idea. In other words, pick a set of
colors that you're going to use within the poster.
- Try to use color in consistent ways, for example, section headings might
all use the same color.
- Pay attention to contrast, which roughly refers to how light or dark the
colors are. In general, you want dark text and a light background, or
vice versa. (The mistake tends to be using mid-range colors together,
such as green text on a
blue background; yellow on white (both light colors) or black on
dark green (both dark colors) are other examples.) Try a "squint
test" to check contrast: squint and see if the text is still readable.
- Try to avoid blue text, which is a color that's hard for our eyes to
focus on. (Dark blue is fine, and blue backgrounds are also.)
Red on a blue
background is also a bad combination for physical reasons (red has
the longest focal length and blue has the shortest, so it's hard on our
eyes when they are adjacent). Learn more about Physiological
Principles for the Effective Use of Color (G. Murch).
- An estimated 7-10 percent of U.S. males are red-green colorblind see
Wikipedia, for example), so it's best to
avoid using red and green to distinguish things.
- You might want to check that your color printer is actually able to print
what you're intending before investing too much in it. For example, some
printers will choke on large areas of strong color, and you'll get
stripes or streaks.
- Your best bet is the relatively conservative choice of having a pastel or
mid-colored background with white boxes for the text and black text. Or
maybe a white background with pastel boxes and black text. Yes,
it sounds kinda boring. See point one.
- Note that the approriate image format for the web is not the same as for
print. (Images designed for web use are designed to be small files, so
tha they load quickly and often have blurred edges, so that they look
better in the small sizes in which they are typically displayed.)
Avoid using .jpgs, which are intended for web use, and have fuzzy
edges. For print use, formats such as .eps and .tiff will work
best. These will retain their sharp edges even when printed at a large
size. (NOTE: You cannot convert a .jpg to a .eps file and solve the
problem... the edges are already fuzzy. Start clean.)
- Please consider the true size of your images when printed. In proportion
to the rest of a page, your image might look fine, but when printed, you
might find that your image looks HUGE.
Constructing and Printing Your Poster
Using the large-format printer
Although I am no great fan of the company in Redmond, WA, you should probably
use PowerPoint to construct your poster. This is the most reliable way we have
of printing them and archiving them. (Update: OpenOffice is a bit clunky as
compared to PowerPoint, but should actually work fine.)
Note: If you want to use Bowdoin logos, please get the official
versions. (Be sure to use the "for print" versions, which means "vector
graphics" and not jpg files.)
Here are some templates for a Bowdoin-themed poster, 48x36 inches, which is a
- The official current logo is the Bowdoin "wordmark", which you can
about here. On
the righthand-side sidebar are "downloadable wordmarks". (You want the EPS
versions, despite what that page says.)
- The Polar Bear logo appears to be the province of the athletic
department, and I can't find an official source,
but here's one. It's a
.jpg, and would look fuzzy on an actual poster, but is kind of okay.
- The Bowdoin Sun logo can be grabbed in jpg form
from here. (That's
a jpg, but a pretty high resolution one.)
- I have not been able to find the Bowdoin sun logo or other logos in any
on the Bowdoin web site, though you can google some up. As before, vector
graphics are the ones that are going to look best when printed on an actual
Those are really the same, but just with a different color at the back. And
since there is no text on the background, the color could be stronger than it
is. But it's still best to avoid a very saturated color, which often won't
print well (and can take a longer time to print).
- Pale yellow
Please avoid the urge to be "tricky" when constructing your poster, such as
going outside the page boundaries. The large-format printing setup is
relatively fragile and it will take hours to print your poster (and multiple
attempts) if you get too adventuresome.
For drafts, just print on standard paper (using the sizes above, but
scaling when printing). The text will end up tiny, but it's a good rule of
thumb that anything that's too small to read in that format is going to be too
small in the final large poster, so this is helpful for drafts anyway.
Plan on having your final version done several days before you leave for your
conference, particularly if there are multiple people going to the same
conference (who all need their posters printed). A well-behaved poster will
print in half an hour. Very few posters are well behaved.
Other means of constructing a poster
Depending on available equipment and your travel plans, a large monolithic
poster might not be the right choice for you.
If you don't have a large-format printer available, you'll probably construct
your poster using poster board, with the content glued, taped, or pinned to
the larger board. Occasionally, it will make sense to construct a poster as a
series of 8.5x11 sheets (which is the easiest to travel with, but won't look
Other things to consider:
Is the conference venue providing pushpins, or should you bring your own?
Do you have tube to store your poster in for travel?
Some possibly helpful resources:
Clare Bates Congdon