Bowdoin Research poster presentations
Clare Bates Congdon
Bowdoin College 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 learning.)

General Content
Your poster should include a clear statement of the following. (Depending on your project, you will not need of all 4, 5, and 6):
  1. The project title
  2. Your name(s)
  3. The goals of your project
  4. Background on your data or domain
  5. A description of your system design
  6. Background on your approach and research methodology
  7. Results of your work
  8. Conclusions
  9. Future Work
Your poster should likely also include sections on:
  1. References (to salient related work)
  2. Acknowledgements (the folks or funding agencies who helped you)
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 audience.

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:
  1. 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 away with.
  2. Similar to outlining a paper, you'll want to identify the major sections of your poster, probably drawn from the lists above.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 real estate.)
Some thoughts about layout:
  1. Try to write the content first, just in straight text, with perhaps each major piece (section or graphic) on a separate piece of paper.
  2. 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).
  3. Beyond that, you have a lot of leeway about the design, including:
  4. 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 fonts:
  1. Ideally a person with normal vision should be able to read your poster from a couple of feet away.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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 lower-case x).
Some thoughts about color:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Try to use color in consistent ways, for example, section headings might all use the same color.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
Some thoughts about images:
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.)
  1. The official current logo is the Bowdoin "wordmark", which you can learn more about here. On the righthand-side sidebar are "downloadable wordmarks". (You want the EPS versions, despite what that page says.)
  2. 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.
  3. The Bowdoin Sun logo can be grabbed in jpg form from here. (That's a jpg, but a pretty high resolution one.)
  4. I have not been able to find the Bowdoin sun logo or other logos in any official place 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 poster.
Here are some templates for a Bowdoin-themed poster, 48x36 inches, which is a standard size.
  1. Blue background
  2. Pale yellow background
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).

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 as nice).

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:
Maintained by: Clare Bates Congdon (