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Biology 11A Research Project: How to Make an Academic Poster

What is an Academic Poster?

Academic posters are widely used, typically in academic conferences, as a way to summarize and concisely present information in order to generate a larger discussion.

These posters are usually a mixture of brief text mixed with tables, graphs, pictures, etc. When these posters are presented at conferences, the poster author(s) stand with the poster while other conference attendees come by and view the presentation and have the opportunity to comment and ask the poster author(s) questions.

Free PowerPoint Research Poster Templates

The website, posterpresentations.com, provides a variety of templates that allow you to turn a PowerPoint into an academic poster. Choose from a variety of templates, poster sizes, and color schemes, then add your text, pictures, graphics, and figures. Check with your instructors to see if there are specific requirements for your posters before you get started. 

Parts of an Academic Poster

Your poster should include:

  • A title for your work
    • Keep it short and make it catchy!
  • The authors who contributed to the work
    • Since you will be completing this work as a group, all group members are considered authors.
    • Authors are usually listed in order of how much work they contributed to the project, with the leader of the research team, or Principal Investigator (PI), being the last author.
  • Author affiliations
    • The authors' affiliations is the college, university, institution, or company the work was conducted at.
    • The affiliation for this assignment is as follows:
      • Department of Biology, Clovis Community College, California, United States

An abstract is a concise summary of your paper. An effective abstract will inform the reader of the scientific hypothesis being tested, the purpose, or “why”, of the study, the main methods, important results and conclusions in only one paragraph. When writing an abstract for a publication or presentation, there is always a maximum word or character count. Many scientists choose to write the abstract last.

Different fields of science have slightly different requirements and formats for abstracts. Here is a general guideline:

  • Background: In one sentence, introduce your work. An effective introduction tells the reader what is known in the field (context) and identifies the gap of knowledge being addressed in the paper.
  • Methods and Results: This section should be the longest part of your abstract, but no more than two or three sentences. This section is arguably the most important part of the abstract, because other scientists seek out a paper when they are interested in the results. The details for your methods will be contained in your paper, so in your abstract you can keep it brief. For your results, pick out the most important results and summarize them. Depending on your research, you may want to address the methods and results separately, but often they are intertwined.
  • Conclusions: In one sentence, concisely state what you learned from your research.

A good introduction section should do two things. First, it provides context for your work by describing what is already known in the field, as well as an unknown that your research is addressing. The latter is often called the gap in knowledge. Second, it should identify your scientific question and hypothesis. Usually, the introduction starts broadly, describing the work of other scientists. It is important to summarize this work (do not quote) and to properly cite the work.

When writing your introduction, it is often helpful to start at the end. Identify your scientific question, your hypothesis and the gap of knowledge first. Then brainstorm what you will need to tell your readers in terms of context and background. 
 

For your lab poster, your materials and methods section will detail your analysis of the data. Since this is a poster and not an article, you do not need to worry about including all the details and can keep it pretty brief. Don’t provide any of your results, just the methods. Scientists usually write this section of their paper first, followed by the results section. Some other things you might include would be what type of statistical analysis you decided to do. 

The Results section is where you will detail your data in the form of figures, tables and written text. Begin by creating your tables and figures. Place the figures and tables in order of how you want to present them and name them Figure 1, Figure 2, Table 1, Table 2, etc. 

In your written narrative of the results, you should go through each figure in order, emphasizing any important results from each one. As you discuss each figure, you will reference the figure or table in parentheses. For example: “RT-PCR analysis shows an increase in gene expression for gene X (Fig 2).” It is important that you present your data clearly and in a logical manner. 

Have fun playing around with how to organize your figures with the text to make the poster look professional. You need a minimum of 2 figures for your poster.

The discussion section of the paper is your chance to analyze and interpret your results. Consider the following questions when writing your discussion:

  1. What do your results mean?
  2. How do they fit into the bigger picture?
  3. If any experiments did not give expected results, hypothesize why that might have been the case and propose alternate experiments that could confirm or clarify your results.
  4. Include at least one sentence of future work that you would do if you had more time or what students in upcoming semesters could do to continue to answer your questions.

All the references that you cite on your poster must be present in a References section.  The reference section can be listed in either alphabetical order or by order of appearance. Most of your sources will be scientific journals and should use the following format:

Authors (year) “Title.” Journal Name, vol. #, page #s, DOI

Example of an online article that is also in print:
Haussecker D., Huang Y., Lau A., Parameswaran P., Fire A. Z. and M. A. Kay (2010) “Human tRNA-derived small RNAs in the global regulation of RNA silencing.” RNA, Vol. 16, page 637-695,  doi:10.1261/rna.2000810

Example of an article that is online only:
Marianes, A. and A. C. Spradling (2013) “Physiological and stem cell compartmentalization within the Drosophila midgut.” eLife, doi:10.7554/eLife.00886

In-text Citations
To save space on our posters, we will number our references 1 through 5 and use the numbers as citations throughout the text of your poster.

What Makes a Good Poster?

Here's some tips to make your poster eye-catching and easily readable:

  • The title should be short and draw interest.
  • Text is clear and to the point.
  • The most important information should be readable from about 10 feet away.
  • Use headers, bullets, and numbering to make it easier to read.
  • Make choices that make your poster easy to read.
    • Use sans serif fonts and make your text as large as possible.
    • Check the contrast of the colors you use for your text and backgrounds to ensure they contrast well.
    • Use graphics and picture only when needed so they do not detract from the message of the poster.
  • Keep your layout consistent and clean.