“How can we communicate science through posters better?”
Publication is important for communicating new discoveries within the scientific communities, sharing new found knowledge and revising on previous findings. Nevertheless, research work that leads to publication requires years of effort, and there are other methods of science communication while the research work is under way. One of the most common methods at conferences is scientific posters.
The world of academia emphasises and appreciates symmetry. In most science posters at conferences, you will find the following layout familiar:
Title, introduction, methods, results, conclusions, acknowledgement, and future directions; all arranged neatly in rectangular panels. No doubt we value organisation, order, and neatness – but is that the best we can do as scientists or aspiring scientists? How can we use our creativity and innovative thinking not only in designing cutting-edge science, but through communicating it within our posters?
The last thing that you wanted to hear from your reader is: “I don’t quite understand what is the message that you are trying to convey.”
Beyond the poster as a media itself, we need catalysts for the science communication to happen, ensuring that great science (not only published science) gets out there and is understood by people. This great science should not be confined behind the cold lab walls or enshrined within the unfamiliar jargons of the field.
The “Catalysts” of Poster Presentation
A good poster is easy-to-follow, has a balance between images and text to help explain your research focus and your findings, and also has a coherent introduction and conclusion.
Here are a few catalysts to help create an impactful and engaging scientific poster:
1. Tell a story
Behind every great scientific discovery, there is a story. People love stories! They are what we read in novels, newspaper articles, and even in scientific journals. Designing a story line for your research and research posters makes these discoveries more appealing, drawing people toward your poster and begin consuming its content.
2. Short and Simple (The ‘SaS’)
The average time someone engages with a poster is approximately 2-5mins, so the first 30 seconds will help readers decide whether if they will continue reading your poster or not. Hence, keeping “the SaS” (Short and Simple) rule in mind when designing your poster will not only makes it easier for you to explain your research, but also allows your work to reach a broader audience. This is because when engaging with a good poster, the brain’s reward system is activated as the readers find that they can actually understand your work, rather than “rejecting” it because it is too daunting. A good poster prompts conversations and meaningful discussions. This further engagement during a poster session could open up doors to networking opportunities, job-hunting for prospective graduates, and the possibility of research collaborations.
Now this a bit uncommon for scientific posters. However, typesetting is essential before you start designing your poster. Placing different content at different location within a poster will affect how readers perceive it. One way to go about this is to strategically place key messages of the poster (ie. your results and research question/s) at the centre of your poster, as this section of the layout catches the most attention of the readers out of all others. This would prompt the readers to read your introduction to find out what the results are about, which is a “reverse psychology” technique. Also, make sure the font size that you have selected is comfortable to read. Although large font size might be good for grabbing attention, overly large font size feels like “a slap in the face”, which really is not the experience we are hoping for when reading a poster.
4. Colours and Graphics
Three to four warm and comfortable colours are recommended. Using striking colours might be effective in attracting attention, yet such colours tire the eyes quickly. Warm and comfortable colour palettes are attractive to our eyes, similar to how the colours of nature are always captivating, and you wouldn’t mind staring at it all day. Images and graphics on the other hand, create a more lasting impression than blocks of words. Therefore, when you are showcasing your scientific findings, use these tools to help your audience to “visualise” your research.
Rethinking how we communicate through scientific posters
Despite scientific posters provide a short engagement window between readers and presenters during a conference, never underestimate its impact. No doubt reading scientific discoveries through publication is fascinating, but it is during a conference poster session itself is when you get to hear the researchers themselves telling you about their research – the sense of “human connection” that you won’t often get from reading a printed article.
Next time you have an opportunity to design a poster for your research, think about the possibilities of what an engaging poster will provide!