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TRIO McNair Undergraduate Research Guide: Preparing Your Poster

Five Steps to Follow

How to prepare your poster and oral poster presentation? 

There are many ways to frame and think about the creation of a poster presentation. The University of Texas at Austin provides an easy to follow and intuitive 5 step process for thinking about and preparing the construction of a poster presentation. This process helps to frame the narrative message being conveyed to your audience. It is also important as we discuss these steps to understand that it is not a linear process. Just like a research paper, you might revisit any sections of the creation of your poster and message as you develop and refine other portions of your presentation.

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Consider the following questions as you prepare for your poster presentation:

  1. What will be expected and required of you at the presentation? 
    • What is a poster session?
    • What is expected of participants? 
    • When is the poster session? 
    • Where is the poster session? 
    • How will you prepare and print your poster? 
    • Why are you participating? 
  2. Who will be the target audience for your research project? How would you describe it to 

    • a general, non-scholarly audience? 

    • a scholar from a different field? 

    • a scholar from your field? 

  3. What do you hope to accomplish with your poster presentation? Are you trying to 

    • inform your audience? 

    • persuade your audience? 

    • establish yourself as a reputable researcher? 

    • All of the above? 

Keep the answers to these questions in mind throughout the poster-making process. This will help you make decisions about what information is most important for your poster, what you will include and emphasize, and what you will possibly leave out.

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Develop Content

Posters typically include many of the sections listed below. Starred items are required. Which sections do you need to include? 


Select a title that effectively and succinctly communicates the topic and significance of your project while retaining a professional tone. Avoid jargon; use terms all audience members can understand. 

Collaborators & Institutional Affiliations* 

The order that you list the authors on the project matters a great deal — check with your faculty supervisor for information on listing authors if you are working as part of a research team. If this is your independent research project, you are the sole author. 


An abstract is the succinct summary of your research project. It is customary in some disciplines to include your abstract on your poster. Ask your faculty advisor whether this is the case for your discipline. 

Background & Literature Review 

Make the case for your research question(s) and explain how your research contributes to the existing literature on the topic. 

Research Question(s)* 

Provide a clear statement about the problem(s) you are trying to solve or the issue(s) you have investigated. 

Materials & Methods* 

This should be a brief description. Use visual aids to summarize information. 

  • What did you do to address your research question(s)? 

  • What measures did you use? 

  • What sample did you use? 

  • Were there any manipulations, comparisons, correlations, or significant differences of interest? 

  • What are the strengths and limitations of your methodology? 


What were the outcomes of the research? You can express results quantitatively or qualitatively. If your research is in progress, report your preliminary results. 

Discussion & Conclusion* 

What are the broader implications of your research and/or findings? 

Future Directions 

Did your research leave unanswered questions that could be explored in the future? 


Thank your funding source(s) and acknowledge help from others not on the list of authors (for an independent project, this normally includes your faculty mentor). 

Contact Information* 

People looking at your poster should be able to contact you, even if you are not standing next to your poster. Provide your professional e-mail address next to your name at the top of the poster. If applicable, you can also provide a link to a Web site that has information about your research in a section titled “For Further Information.” 

Visual Aids 

We highly recommend using figures and images to communicate information. Not only will visual aids make your poster more interesting to look at, but they allow you to effectively tell your story without the use of lengthy text.

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The space on a poster is too limited to present your entire research project. Extracting important ideas and organizing information efficiently is essential to the poster-design process. 

Craft the Take-Away Message 

A poster is most effective when its focus is one core idea. Before you begin making your poster, write 100 words or less summarizing the purpose and findings of your research. Your poster should visually communicate this “take away” message. 

Summarize Key Supporting Information 

What is the take-away message from your project? Is it a creative research method? A finding? A jumping-off point for future research? Your most important ideas deserve the spotlight. Do not waste space on minor details. 

Make Your Poster Easy to Read 

  • Avoid wordiness, unnecessary jargon, and abbreviations not commonly known 

  • Keep text fewer than 10 lines long 

  • List info with bullet points instead of using full paragraphs 

  • Make lists of central ideas and grouped concepts 

  • Emphasize key words with boldface or italics (but avoid underlining) 

Create a Logical Visual Flow 

People tend to look left to right and top to bottom to process information. You can help the visual flow of your poster with headings, arrows, and/or numbers that direct the viewer where to look next. Make sure the take-away message is not a small note in the margin. The bigger and more central something is, the more your viewers will notice it.

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Students commonly use Microsoft PowerPoint to design posters. If you want a more sophisticated program, you can try Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop. 

Page Setup 

Before you begin poster layout, make sure that the page size is the same as your final print size. To change the page size in Microsoft PowerPoint, go to “File” and select “Page Setup.” The event where you are presenting may specify poster dimensions, but generally, dimensions are 46” – 50” x 40” 


Using visual aids such as images, charts, figures, timelines, and diagrams is a great way to make your poster less text-heavy and more visually appealing. Make sure your graphics are simple, consistent in scale, properly labeled, and legible from at least three feet away. 

When possible, use data to create figures instead of simply listing the data in a table. 


Do not simply copy and paste photos from the web, for two reasons. First, photos printed as part of a poster should be at least 300ppi, but website photos are typically 72ppi and will turn out fuzzy when they are printed. Second, it is not appropriate to use someone else’s photos unless they have published them under a license that allows you to do so. Many photos released under Creative Commons licenses can be used for academic purposes with minimal restrictions. 

Text Format 

Do not use more than two different fonts on your poster. The minimum text size for a poster is 16 pt. Headings should be between 30 and 60 pt, and the poster title should be over 72 pt. Because the physical dimensions of posters can vary it can be hard to pin down an exact size to make your body text, but the general rule is that each column of text should have 11-12 words per line. 

Choose fonts that are attractive and easy to read. Some good ones include Helvetica, Times New Roman, Trebuchet, and Century Gothic. Sans serif fonts (e.g. Helvetica) usually work a little better than serif fonts (e.g. Cambria). Avoid fonts that are clichéd, too distinctive, or unprofessional (e.g. Comic Sans, Papyrus). 

Use bold or italicized type sparingly to emphasize certain text. Do not underline or use capital letters for emphasis. 


Use a light color for backgrounds and a dark color for text. Avoid distracting viewers with patterns or complex images in the background. When using multiple colors to add emphasis, be consistent and keep the color palette limited. Viewers tend to look for a pattern in a series of colors rather than absorb the information. Avoid bright or clashing colors that will exhaust the viewers’ eyes. 

When using color to create contrast, remember that some people cannot distinguish between certain colors, such as red and green. 

White Space 

Divide the sections of your poster logically by using empty, white space. If there is too much information to fit in white space, either take out some information or summarize the information more concisely.

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How to Talk About Your Poster 

You know a lot about your project, and you have an investment in it. Be confident that you know your subject. Your knowledge and excitement will come through. 

Be Prepared & Engage the Audience 

Have a one- or two-minute mini-speech ready to go. When people begin looking at your poster, don’t wait for them to ask a question. Just say, “Would you like to hear about my research for a minute or two?” They almost always agree, and this frees them from having to read and figure it all out themselves. 

Offer to answer questions, and if you don’t know an answer just admit it and speculate with the person or ask what he/she might do. Point to figures and use them in your explanation. 

Check with your audience to make sure they understand the technical aspects of the explanations (for example, “Do you know about fluorescence microscopy?”) if that’s an important component of your study. 

Check regularly to make sure they’re following what you’re saying (”Does that make sense?”). 

Remember that visitors with questions are not trying to challenge your expertise — they’re genuinely interested in learning more about your work, or in helping you think of better or additional ways to approach your topic. 

Use Your Voice 

To convey your ideas effectively, you need to speak with confidence. A confident voice has 

  • High Volume 
    Because your presentation area may be crowded and busy, remember to speak loud enough to be heard. 

  • Slow Speed 
    When nervous there is a tendency to speak more quickly. A good rule of thumb: speak slowly enough that you think you are speaking too slowly; this will probably be the perfect speed. 

  • No Fillers 
    Fillers like “um,” “uh,” “like,” “you know,” and “okay” detract from your message. 

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