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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research Posters : Elements of a poster

Poster sessions at conferences and professional meetings are a way to visually convey the details of your research or conclusions. This guide will offer you the basics in design, content and printing resources.


Remember, there are three components to your poster session:

  1. You
  2. Your poster
  3. A handout

All three components should complement one another, not repeat each other. Try to outline all three before designing your poster. 

You: You should prepare a 3-4 minute lightning talk about your research. This could be a unique experience or insight you had about your research that adds depth of understanding to what the attendee can read on your poster or it could be a quick overview of our research. Carefully consider the audience for your poster session. Unless you are presenting at a discipline specific conference, your talk should be in layman's language - don't assume your audience will understand the jargon in your discipline. You should also prepare to answer questions about your research. Practice your talk with several people from inside and outside your discipline, if possible. 

Poster: How do you choose the content that will go on your poster? Keep in mind - your poster in not a research paper. A guideline is, whatever content you want to include on your poster, cut it in half. Use bullet points whenever possible and stay away from long, narrative paragraphs. Your poster should be an outline of your research with interesting commentary about what you learned along the way. It should also balance visuals and text. Your poster is essentially a prop for your presentation. See the Examples tab for some example posters. 

Handout: Best practices for handouts - 1) Your handout should be double-sided. 2) The first side of the paper can include a replica of your poster (this can be in black and white or color). 3) The second side of the handout can include extraneous information such as your literature review, cited references, further information about your topic, and your contact information. Your handout can be a single sheet or 1/2 sheet of 8 1/2 by 11 inches. 

Three questions to ask yourself when designing a poster

  1. What is the most important/interesting/astounding finding from my research project?
  2. How can I visually share my research with conference attendees? Should I use charts, graphs, photos, images?
  3. What kind of information can I convey during my lightning talk that will complement my poster?

Best reason to give a poster presentation - Your poster presentation presents an opportunity to talk about your research and learn to see your research through the lens of other experts and non-experts. By interacting with others, you may think of new answers to your research. You may also surprise yourself by asking new questions!