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Making a Research Poster

If you are looking for how to order posters for DREAMS 2018, you will get detailed instructions after you register. This information will help you prepare your poster. Please note that for DREAMS, a 3’x4′ poster is standard – that’s 36 inches high, 48 inches wide.

Part A. Planning the Content and Layout

A poster has to serve two functions: (1) as support visuals for you as you describe the research story while standing at the poster; and (2) as a stand-alone poster that can clearly communicate your research when you aren’t there. Therefore, you want to carefully design both the content of your poster and its layout. A template example is available here: simple_template

Step 1. Plan out the content for your poster.

When presenting your work: (a) tell a focused story; (b) tell that story well; (c) be able to tell it in a few minutes. There’s no need to put everything you’ve done on the poster.

Abstract/Summary: The goal of the abstract is to summarize the whole poster in one place. You do not have to squeeze every fact in here; focus on the most important points only. It can help to give the abstract a structure, such as: Motivation. Briefly describe the context and background to this work. Methods. Briefly name the important techniques relevant to this study. Results. Summarize the observations that you’ve made (what you are about to describe on the rest of the poster).

Introduction/Background section. Give a more detailed description of the background. Focus on background that is necessary for a person not directly in your field to understand your presentation. Avoid unnecessary jargon, and make the writing as clear as possible. Including schematics here can be very helpful.

Methods section: Use the methods section to focus on your specific contribution to the project. What methods did you personally use? Did you make modifications to a typical method or create something new? What was the sequence of your analysis? Don’t spend too much space/time on methods that are really common. Just note that you did them. You don’t need to include a detailed protocol.

Results section: Favor figures over text for results if possible (unless text, such as tables, are the best way to present your work). Use figure types appropriate to your data and project. Use only as much text as is necessary to illuminate the figures you present. Make the figures big and easy to read, and set out in a logical sequence. Break the results section into subsections if it makes the research story easier to follow.

Conclusions: Summarize the conclusions of your study. What are the take-home messages for the reader/viewer? This section can be merged with the Abstract.

Additional Questions/Contact: Provide your preferred contact information. If you use twitter – which is widely used in science communication – give your twitter handle, so people can use it to refer to your work. If you have a website, use a QR code to make it easy to reach. You can generate QR codes at

Step 2. Plan the layout of your poster.

Once you have the content above, it’s time to arrange it all on a single page.

A simple place to start: Take a single letter-size piece of paper and make a rough sketch of the poster. It should contain at least the following: a summary/abstract; relevant methods; results; conclusions; and relevant references. Some questions to ask yourself: Which results should you include? In what order should they be shown? How much space do you need to communicate the key methods? Once you start making the poster in software, you can fine-tune the arrangements, but it’s helpful to start with a rough idea of the layout.

Not everyone will read the whole way through the poster. Some might be particularly interested in one facet of the work – it could be the methods, or one particular conclusion. Therefore, it’s important to make it easy to identify the different components of the poster. Use titles within the poster to help people navigate.

It should also be obvious in what order the elements of the poster should be read. Some people do this using section numbers or figure numbers; others do it by a clear left-to-right or top-to-bottom layout.

Title: If possible, choose a title that reflects the conclusion of your work rather than the impetus for your work. “An exploration of the objects that Wile E. Coyote uses to attack the Road Runner” is not as compelling as “Wile E. Coyote uses ACME TNT in more than half of all Road Runner attacks, and TNT backfire probability is 95%”. The second one brings in more components that might be of interest and sets out that there is a conclusion to the poster. The rest of the poster serves as support to that conclusion. If the reader could take home just one message from the poster, you want that one message to be the title of your poster.

Authors and Affiliations: It’s important to include the names of your co-authors as well as what departments/institutions they are affiliated with.

Titles of Sections: See the note on Title, above. Especially when communicating results, you want any Section Titles to communicate the take home message of that section. Titling a section “Western Blots” is a lost opportunity to instead say, “pERK is increased after 24 hours”. The fact that it’s a western blot that was used to determine that can be said in the figure caption or elsewhere. The method you use is secondary to the insight it gives you. First make the claim, then support it.

Figure captions: See the note for the Title, above. The conclusion of the figure (the take-home message) should be the title of the figure. Don’t hide the big story! Make the claim, then support it.

Brevity is the soul of wit, and also of memorable clear communication: Edit the amount of text you use on the poster down to the minimum needed to communicate your work. It needs to be long enough to be understood if you are not there, but it doesn’t need to be a complete record of all your work (that’s what research papers are for!). The goal here is simple: the less you say, the faster and easier it is for the reader to understand and to remember.

Fonts: The main text on the poster should use a sans serif font, because it is easier to read from a distance (serif fonts can work better for close reading, like a book). Don’t decrease font size below 28 on a 3’ x 4’ poster, as it will become harder to read, and it also encourages the inclusion of too much text to read. NOTE that the need for a large font includes the figure legends and axis labels.

Margins: Make sure to keep a margin of at about 0.5-1 inch around the edge
of the poster

Final Check: When working with such a large document, much of the work is done while ‘zoomed in’. Make sure, before you finish, to zoom all the way out and see the overall layout. Clarity is paramount. When in doubt, err on the side of less clutter, fewer words and larger images.

Part B. Actually Making the Poster

There are three steps:

  1. Create your poster in your chosen software – PowerPoint or Photoshop are most common, but other options are possible.
  2. Convert your poster into the format needed by the printer.
  3. Order your poster!

Step 1. Create your poster in your chosen software.

First, start with a canvas of the correct size – this will make your work easier in the long run. Let’s say you’re making a poster that is 3 feet by 4 feet (the DREAMS standard). Most modern Powerpoint versions will allow you to create a 48 inch wide by 36 inch tall slide (go to File>Page Setup… and enter the dimensions; or use this template as an example: simple_template – that template also contains some tips on designing your poster). Likewise, Photoshop will allow a canvas of this size (make it 150 dpi).

Step 2. Convert your poster into the format needed. 

If using Photoshop, exporting a 36″x48″, 150-dpi JPG or PDF is straightforward. If using Powerpoint, you will want to use “Save as…” to save as a PDF of the correct size (select PDF from the ‘Format’ dropdown box).

If the poster printing service needs a JPG, you can convert the PDF using or similar services. Set “Choose Image Format” to JPG; set the “Quality (DPI)” to 150; and set “Image Color” to Colored. Upload your file and convert. You should confirm the dimensions of the jpg – the height should be 5400 pixels (that’s 36 inches x 150 dpi).

Step 3. Order the poster! 

For the free poster printing for DREAMS 2017: you will receive detailed instructions by email after you register.


Vice Provost for Research

265 Garland Hall
3400 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218

(410) 516-8094

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