Dr. Michelle Harris, Dr. Janet Batzli, Biocore Program
Posters are large pieces of paper or cardboard which carry text and figures and concisely present ideas or the results and conclusions of experiments. Poster sessions are common at scientific meetings and are one of the ways in which scientists share information with each other. In Biocore we make use of posters as formal presentations that replace lab reports or papers. This section focuses on formal posters, such as you would present at a scientific meeting. Before preparing your own poster, observe some made by biologists on this campus by going to any building where biological research is going on such as those displayed in the corridors of the Zoology Research Building.
Developing a poster is quite different from writing a paper or creating a PowerPoint presentation. Team members must work together on the poster so that it tells a unified story. It is important to make posters easy to read and visually appealing. During a scientific meeting, there may be as many as 200 of these in a room, and you do not want your poster to be ignored. Use lettering which is at least 1/4 inch high (larger for titles) so that the information can be read easily from at least five feet away. Although the poster should be visually appealing, don’t get carried away with this – put your efforts into substance over form. In evaluating the posters, we pay much more attention to the poster’s scientific soundness and ability to tell an integrated story than we do to its glitz.
Include the following components in your posters:
An informative title: Gives the reader some idea of your experimental system stating the organism (or general system) you are studying, the independent variable you studied, and the direction of your results.
The names of the authors in alphabetical order: Order of authors’ names generally indicates the researchers’ level of involvement in the study. However, we expect all group members to have equal involvement in the study and preparation of the poster; therefore, authors should be listed without indication of hierarchy, in alphabetical order.
The department and institution where the work took place: In this case, Biology Core Curriculum, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Abstract: <200 words (FYI: Abstracts are usually submitted ahead of time to the organizers of a meeting, who decide which posters will be accepted for presentation.)
Introduction: Be brief, but include the following:
- Question: What question did you address with your experiment?
- Background: key issues, concepts, or terminology needed to understand the reason for the experiment.
- Biological rationale: This provides the logical, biological reason for doing the experiment and why you believe your hypothesis to be true. This is NOT a social justification. Remember your audience: gear your poster to classmates in your lab section.
- Hypothesis: It is of particular importance that you define and present a clear hypothesis that is testable given your experimental design. In general, your hypothesis should indicate your independent variable (what you are manipulating), your dependent variable (what you are measuring), your study organism or system, and the direction or trajectory of your predicted result(s).
Methods: There is not room for a lot of details, but you should give your readers enough information so that they can evaluate your claims—not necessarily repeat your experiment. We strongly recommend using a chart or annotated diagram to convey your experimental design, sequence of events and tools.
Results: Briefly state your results, referring to a series of figures/graphs displaying your data. (It is acceptable to use bullets for this.) It usually is easier to get your ideas across with figures, especially for a poster, but tables are appropriate in some cases. Use large font for your axes and numbers. Include data from your controls. Figures and tables need legends which are often more lengthy than in a paper since you are trying to tell your story with graphics. It is appropriate to use titles to label your tables and figures.
Discussion and Conclusions: Your discussion should clearly restate your hypothesis and state whether you support or reject it with supporting evidence from your results. Avoid over interpretation (particularly if your design or protocol had weaknesses or suffered from excessive experimental error) and stick to what you can or cannot say about the system given your data. If your data supported your hypothesis, connect your final conclusion with the problem and biological assumptions embedded within the biological rationale presented in the Introduction. If your data did not support your hypothesis, describe how any erroneous biological assumptions you made would explain your alternative results. If possible, briefly describe literature that would help explain your alternative results.
Literature Cited: Follow guidelines in this manual. Numerical citations or parenthetical citation format within the text are both acceptable for posters.