Poster Sessions

Here's a strongly recommended source that provides detailed information (often with a sprinkling of humor) on poster sessions.

Notes on Poster Sessions

These notes are a synthesis of information contained in the references at the end. Much of the material is directly reproduced, with permission, from the two listed out-of-print publications of the American Chemical Society.

  1. All chemistry majors who are completing Independent Study as part of the fulfillment of their graduation requirements (or who have completed independent study but have not yet taken part in a poster session) are expected to present a poster on the last Friday of classes of the spring semester. The structure of the session usually allows each poster to be viewed for an extended time period with the author available during part of this time to answer questions and provide an oral summary of the work. (1) Participants will place posters on display panels on the lower level of French Family Science Center between 9 AM and noon on the Friday of the Poster Session. During the period from 12:30-2:30 PM on the Friday of the Session, the student is expected to be available at his/her display to explain his/her research to anyone interested. Posters need to be taken down at 2:30 PM to make way for the Biology Poster Session which uses the same easels.
  2. The poster is a written summary of your research project and follows the usual format for reporting research, except that it is very abbreviated and is done in print that is large enough to read at a distance of 3 feet. The poster should contain the following. (2)
    • The title, which reflects the theme or major concept of the poster.
    • The author(s) and their department affiliations.
    • The abstract, a short summary of the poster.
    • The introduction, which includes a description of what you wanted to do and why. It often contains background information from previous works in the literature. The introduction may include a formal hypothesis.
    • The materials and methods section, which shows how and what you did. This section often contains controls and experimental design as well as the techniques used.
    • The data presentation, which can include various formats — graphs, pictures, diagrams, structures, tables, or models. This section includes the information that you collected during your research.
    • The results section, which involves evaluation of the data that lead to conclusions about your data, experimental design, or theme presented. If you proposed a hypothesis, did the data support the hypothesis? If not, why not? Your conclusion should also answer the "so what?" question so that your audience leaves with a complete story about what you did, why you did it, and what the outcome of the activity was.
    • References (bibliography), which may be very helpful, especially if you are referring to work by others.
    • Acknowledgments, especially for funding agencies.
  3. The audience for the poster session includes fellow students, graduate students in chemistry and related departments, faculty (including those from the the Medical Center), and occasionally prospective students who have been accepted for admission and are visiting Duke as part of their decision making process. One important question to consider is how to get people at the poster session to see the results of your hard work. In general, when you show your poster, there will be only a one-to five-second time frame in which to catch people's attention because your audience is mobile. At a poster session, people are generally walking around trying to see things that interest them — things that have "eye appeal." People rarely have time to see everything at a poster session and therefore must pick and choose. (3) That suggests making an attractive looking poster.
  4. Suggestions for the preparation of the poster
    • Poster constructed from modules — A common method of poster construction is to prepare individual components in a modular approach. For example, a banner listing the title, authors, and affiliations forms one module. The remaining components of the poster are presented as individual modules. The presentation can be made more attractive and readable if the components such as abstract, data, and discussion sections, are printed on white paper (3) using Helvetica font for clarity. Mount the papers on a contrasting colored piece of poster board, 4 ft wide by 3 ft high.
    • Suggestions for formatting content:
      • Don't waste words. Don't use a paragraph if a sentence will do; don't use a sentence if a phrase will do; don't use a phrase if a word will do; don't use a picture without some explanation.
      • Use captions on your presentations of data so that each can stand alone and someone can read, briefly, a description of the data. (3)
      • Use lower case letters wherever they are normally used. Text consisting of capitals alone is much less legible, even at a distance. (2)
      • Make capital letters in the title at least 40 mm high, with lower-case letters of the appropriate size (about 25 mm for an 'x'). (2)
      • Subheading capitals should be 10-16 mm high and a lower-case 'x' should be 6-10 mm high. (2)
      • The text, which has to be readable from a distance of about 1 m, should have capital letters 6-8 mm high, with a lower case 'x' about 4-5 mm high. (2)
      • Graphs and photographs are preferable to tables. (2)
  5. Suggestions for mounting posters on display panels — The display panels owned by the Chemistry Department consist of an easel with a 30" x 42" foam board and a tri-fold cardboard poster mount (3' x 4'). If you have a printed poster, you can attach your poster to the tri-fold using clips provided by chemistry department. If you do not have a printed poster, you should prepare modular sections and mount them to your own large sheet of poster panel or tri-fold cardboard poster mount that you can purchase from Duke Stores in the Bryan Center. (Note: you should not plan on using either thumb tacks or any kind of tape directly on the department's foam boards since that makes it difficult to reuse the boards.) You will be assigned to one easel.
  6. The preparation of the author should not be overlooked — The author should have a thorough knowledge of the material presented as well as other relevant experiments. A knowledge of the history of the field and of the state of the art is very valuable. Most poster viewers will want a summary of the work from the author and will ask questions. It may be helpful to present the poster to colleagues, for practice, before the meeting. (3)
  7. Personal appearance is also important to consider — The appropriate dress is mature but also in keeping with personal taste. Personal appearance should project a confident image of the author and the associated research. (3)
  8. During the poster presentation, the author should stand at the poster and offer to explain it to people who appear interested — Enthusiasm about the research is essential because it will be directly communicated to others. (1) Welcome people who stop to chat about your poster and be comfortable fielding their questions. Remember that you have spent a great deal of time on your project — your contribution to the chemistry profession can be measured only by how well you communicate and present your important ideas to your colleagues! (3)
  9. A successful poster presentation leaves the author with a feeling of gratification — New ideas for additional experiments are gained, collaborations are often set up and new friends are made. Research has been communicated and the scientific process has been furthered. The experience of giving a poster strengthens the confidence of the author and prepares him or her for future presentations. It is an experience that should not be missed by any practicing scientist or any student training to become one. (1)


  1. Burgess, S.K., the pHilter, 1990, 12.
  2. O'Connor, M. "Writing Successfully in Science", HarperCollinsAcademic:: London,, U.K.; 1991, pp. 164-168.
  3. Jones, M.A., Standard, J.M., Ichniowski, T.C. in Chemistry, 1994, 5 , pp 13-15.