Skip to Main Content
UVM Libraries Research Guides banner

Medical Laboratory Science

Before you begin

Congratulations! Your proposal has been accepted, and you will be presenting a poster at the upcoming meeting! Now the work begins....

What is a scientific poster, and what is it used for?

A scientific poster provides a concise description of a study or project, usually for the purpose of presentation before a live or virtual audience at a professional conference. Since you may be competing with many other presenters for the audience's attention, your goal will be to create a poster that will quickly and effectively convey the primary message in such a way that the message sticks.



Plan the design

Before you begin designing the poster, you'll want to identify your primary message. It may be helpful to try to summarize your central message in a single, complete sentence. For example, "We want to show that our new therapeutic modality leads to more rapid recovery from ACL injuries than the standard treatment". This sentence may not show up anywhere on your poster, but it will help focus your efforts, keep you from adding extraneous details, and serve as a guide for selecting images and graphics.

Most posters for academic/scientific purposes use a vertical layout of 2-4 columns, reading left to right, and top to bottom. Conferences usually indicate the dimensions of the space available for your poster, listed in feet.

The poster should consist of approximately 50/50 text and graphics, and contain sufficient "white" space (which in fact may be a color) to enable the reader to view the various sections with ease. A well-designed poster flows effortlessly, is well-balanced, and is anesthetically pleasing overall. No one element dominates, yet the critical pieces draw your attention so that you assimilate the central message quickly and effortlessly.

Build the foundation

If you are using a poster template, adding content may be as easy as writing over the dummy text with your own content, and changing the colors and box arrangement to suit your needs.

If you will be creating your poster from scratch, Microsoft PowerPoint is a popular choice for software, as it is easy to use and readily available. Open a new presentation, choosing a Blank slide layout. Your PowerPoint poster will consist of a single slide. Go to Page Setup > Slides Sized For > Custom. Set the width and height of your poster based on the space or meeting requirements.

The maximum size PowerPoint can accommodate is 56". If you need a larger poster, you can create it at half size, and then print it out at 200% scale. If you are designing it at half size, and you want the print to be, say, 100 point, design it in 54 point.

Now you're ready to add content. Start by inserting the headings for essential elements such as the title, introduction/background, aim, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. You can always move objects around, but having them in the field early on often helps the poster to, in a sense, create itself.

Add text

A common fault of scientific posters is including too much text. Include only what is necessary for clarity, and save the detail for the accompanying handout. Though including too little text is seen less commonly, it is just as glaring an error, as it suggests a lack of content.

The text should be large enough to be legible from a distance of ~6-10 feet. When using Arial typeface, the following guidelines will get you started:

  • Title 74-80 point; by-line ~60 point
    • 72 point is about 1" tall
  • Headings ~ 48 pt
  • Main text ~ 32 point
  • Fine print, e.g., references, acknowledgements, ~24 point.

Some sources say that a sans serif typeface, such as Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana, is easier to read than a serif typeface, such as Times New Roman. Avoid unique, distinctive typefaces unless the poster itself is intended to be a creative work.


In PowerPoint, to select a background color for the poster, right-click on the slide, then click on Background > More Colors. Note the numbers in the "RGB" (red, green, blue) boxes. These can be helpful for when you want to duplicate colors throughout the poster.

Experiment with using white boxes on a colored background, or colored boxes on a white background. Both can look very nice when well done. A white or creme-colored background with black text is easy to read, though perhaps a bit boring. Another potential combination is a dark background, say dark navy or green, with white text. Avoid using red and green together, as some of your viewers may be color blind.


Images add visual interest to your poster, and help the reader navigate between sections. Images can easily be inserted in PowerPoint through Insert > Picture > From file.

You can also turn a PowerPoint slide into a jpeg, and insert it as a file:

  • open the Ppt slide show. Highlight the slide you want to use.
  • Click File > Save As.
  • In the Save as Type drop-down menu, select JPEG. Click Save.
  • Ppt will ask if you want to export every slide, or just the current slide. Select Currrent Slide only. You can now insert this as an image by selecting Insert > Picture > From File.

The ability to manipulate images in Ppt is not as great as it is in Word. For example, there is no option to change the image layout to "tight", which in Word allows the text to wrap around an image. Instead, in Ppt, you'll need to use several text boxes to simulate the word wrap effect.

Remember that images must be clear and crisp at the magnification at which they will be printed. Zoom to 100% magnification, and check the resolution before sending to the printer!

Finally, consider issues around copyright when using any image other than one that you created, especially when using images found online.

Tables and Charts

Whenever possible, present your data in a figure or chart, instead of a table. Tables are comparatively dense, and difficult to interpret on-the-fly. If you must use a table, be sure the typeface is large enough that it can be read from 6 feet away. A table can be created directly in PowerPoint by clicking on Insert > Table.

Likewise, charts can be created directly in PowerPoint, or copied/pasted from an Excel file. Creating charts in PowerPoint helps avoid formatting problems. You can re-size a chart just like an image, by pulling on the corners to shrink or enlarge. If possible, include axis labels within the chart, rather than in legends. If necessary, include a brief caption. Ideally, the reader should be able to interpret a chart/graph without needing a caption. And, as always, remember to make the chart large enough to be legible from 6 feet away.

Finishing and printing

When your poster is nearly finished, print it out on your office copier on legal or ledger size paper for a preview. Step back, and ask yourself what grabs your attention, and whether the poster seems to flow smoothly. Look for overly dominant elements, too-small text, or glaring blank spaces. Ask an impartial friend to proof the text and critique the poster.

Prior to the final printing, ALWAYS ask for a proof. Colors will often look different on the poster paper than they looked on your computer monitor. You may be very sorry if you skip this step!

At the meeting

Large posters are easily transported in a cardboard mailing tube. Some meetings have an address (often at the conference hotel) to which you can mail your poster in advance. For some people, that may be altogether too risky, but it has been known to work. There are also options for creating wrinkle-resistant fabric posters that are foldable, and can be tucked into a suitcase.

Bring a variety of tacks and/or tape to hang the poster. Before hanging, check to be sure you are placing it in the space assigned to you.

Prepare a small number of handouts for those who want the detail and to serve as a human surrogate for those times when your poster is left unattended.

When traveling to a meeting, bring the final poster file on a USB drive as a backup, or at a minimum, email it to yourself. If the poster gets lost or damaged in transit, most cities have a business/store that could do a rush printing.

Once the poster session itself is underway, you finally have the chance to present your work! Hopefully the utter beauty and creativity of your poster will prompt passersby to pause to admire your work, and incidentally, to read some of the fine print. Be ready to explain the highlights of your research, to engage the listeners in conversation around the topic, and to answer any questions they may have.

PowerPoint Tips & tricks

Adjust the Zoom settings to suit your need at the moment:

  • write the text at 25-35%
  • use "Fit" to view the entire poster
  • switch to 100% (or 200% if you are creating it in half-size) to check the clarity of images. They may look fine at 25%, but dreadful at 100%.

Moving an element on the poster:

  • Draw > Nudge will move the element one increment.
  • To move in successive increments, use Control/Arrow

The grid and/or ruler can be very helpful for aligning elements, and estimating relative sizes.

To arrange objects an equal distance apart:

  • hold down the Control key, and click on at least 3 objects
  • Click Draw > Align or Distribute

To control the overlapping of boxes/images, click Order > Bring to Front/Back

Additional resources

There are abundant resources available online. Here are just a few: