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Guidelines for Making a Good Poster

Every year UCSF students have several opportunities to present their global health research, project work or service on posters at local or national meetings. UCSF Research Day in January, and in spring, the GHEC Annual meeting, the Bay Area Regional International Health Conference, the UCSF Global Health Symposium, and the Areas of Concentration Symposium, to name a few. A panel of judges usually reviews and rates the posters, with the top ones receiving well-earned recognition and prizes. Poster content is, of course, central in making these assessments, but there are other considerations that also weigh importantly in the review. In sum, if the design and visual appearance of the poster do not attract viewer attention and hold it long enough to convey the message, the content will not count for much.

Based on past experience, we offer here are some suggestions we hope you will consider. Global health projects can cover a wide range: from travelogues to surveys, to internationally-based laboratory or bench research. Your central objective in any kind of presentation, verbal, written, or poster, is to convey a message. You are asking an audience, not under your control, to commit time to listening to or viewing your message.

We hope these guidelines will make it easier to capture and hold viewer attention. However, they are only suggestions. We encourage your creativity! As in life, one size does not fit all. Your poster, whether viewed by a conference participant or judge, will be evaluated on the basis of your project's content (i.e., what you did, what you found, why it is significant). Make it as easy as possible for your viewers to access that content.

Initial presentation
Does your poster make a pleasing presentation from a distance? In essence, does your poster present a "hook" that invites the reviewer to look more closely?

Place the poster so that the average viewer will have about 60% of the poster above eye level and 40% below. Looking up is easier than looking down, and if viewers have to bend down or squat to see the lower portion you will likely lose them.

If relevant to your project, provide an abstract. Use bullets and very abbreviated, telegraphic text, and list only the main points.

Use a short primary title, followed if necessary by a longer subtitle. If possible, word the title to "hook" the reviewer into looking at the poster. Avoid long, all-inclusive titles as might be appropriate for a journal article.

Give clear attribution to the names and study years of the authors, and to faculty support if relevant.

Headings and Content
List headings for major sections which, in the case of a research study, might include hypothesis, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions. In each section use the minimum text consistent with clarity and subject matter; prefer telegraphic style whenever possible, and minimize use of full language prose as would be appropriate in an article. Make maximum use of bullets or numbered items for ease of quick review. Prefer use of the active voice, eg, "we found," rather than "it was found," and declarative prose.

Background Color
Use a background color that is in good contrast to the font color used for text. Avoid a background color that transitions over the panel from light to dark since it will reduce the contrast between some of the text and the background.

Make sure font size makes your poster easily readable from about five feet since you may have multiple viewers at any one time and you don't want to exclude those with more limited visual acuity. Use the same font size throughout except for titles and headings, which can be larger, and for references, which can be smaller. Avoid unnecessary changes in font style; don't be "cute" by shifting styles. Occasional use of italics, bold, or underline for emphasis may be appropriate, however.

Use self-explanatory graphics that do not require reference to other parts of the poster and be sure to have complete legends and scales on the X- and Y-axes. Use bright, contrasting lines and symbols, that is, don't have dark red lines against a dark blue background, etc. If appropriate, you can include a one-sentence interpretation of a graph's significance in the text portion of the poster.

Sequence and Flow
Arrange the various sections of your poster in a logical sequence so your reviewer can proceed through your presentation as you intended. Do you expect your viewers to proceed left to right, and then down a row, as in a book, or to read down as in a column, or some other sequence? If there is any doubt as to sequence, provide arrows or numbers that lead the reviewer from one block to the next one.

Make sure your pictures of persons, buildings, scenery, etc., actually are relevant to your central message by providing context, etc. Use photos to reinforce content, and not solely as decoration. Place pictures in proximity to the relevant text and graphs.

Take-Away Information
Consider the merits of providing viewers with a one-page handout that summarizes the key elements of your project (beyond what is presented in the program abstract) and provides author names and contact information. The annual IHMEC conference has two central objectives - to learn from others, and to network - and an attractive handout will facilitate both.

Two-Minute Test
Finally, submit your poster to the "two-minute test" with friends unfamiliar with your project. Ask them if they can, after a two-minute review, grasp the basics of your project and accurately summarize your core message.

Good luck with your project, and we look forward to seeing your poster presentation!

Prepared for the International Health Medical Education Consortium by Thomas L. Hall and Anvar Velji. Corrections, suggestions for improvement and additions are welcome; send them to thall@epi.ucsf.edu. Updated Jan 9, 2004.

Updated: May 21, 2007
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