Top Tips to Make a Terrible Poster

You’ve got your abstract accepted, and you can’t wait to get down to the conference, but one thing looms over you. The poster. There’s no perfect poster, but avoid these poster faux pas and you’ll be on your way to at least an acceptable poster, if not almost perfect.

Ignore all conference guidelines.

The organisers didn’t intend for you to read and adhere to the guidelines that they’ve carefully laid out. They want portrait, but you already have an old landscape poster? Sure! No problem! The people presenting right next to you will completely understand why you’re blocking half of their poster!

They asked for A0, but you could only find A3 paper. Not. A. Problem. It’ll mean that everybody has to get out a magnifying glass to see the writing and the figures, but that’s their problem, not yours. You can’t help it if they haven’t got supersonic sight.


Cram all of your research on and provide extensive explanations in your figure legends.

You’ve worked damn hard to get where you are, and present this poster. Make it worth while and show all of your data. Make the writing smaller if necessary, but get EVERYTHING on. Because you won’t be standing with your poster all day, make sure that the figures are explained in what some people would call ‘excessive’ detail, but you know that telling everybody your in-depth methods and discussion is what people want to see.


Alternatively, make it mysterious and don’t provide any explanation.

Make sure that people HAVE to come back and speak to you during the defence. Only put images on, and if you absolutely must add in figure legends, make them so lacking in information that they may as well not be there.


Add interest (or take the focus away from your figures) by using all of the colours. Every single one. Contrasting colours preferable to colours in a similar palette.

People love colour, so add a splash of everything here and there. It’ll make yours stand out from the boring white background with black text *snore*. When people walk past, it’ll definitely make them do a double take.

If you don’t have time, just print out a lab meeting you did 3-4 months ago. It’s pretty much the same data anyway.

The most important thing is that you present something. Looks don’t really matter. Anybody that spends any amount of time making a poster is clearly a schmuck. Print out an old presentation, and voila! Instant poster, with only 5 minutes of sorting out what should go where.


On that note, don’t waste time spellchecking.Β 

Who cares if your sentence doesn’t make any sense, or if it’s littered with spelling mistakes? If the science is good enough, people won’t care. If they do, then they aren’t true scientists. We didn’t major in English, what can really be expected of us? I know there’s that super helpful ‘spellcheck’ button, but nobody actually uses that.

Hopefully you’re now feeling more prepared for your upcoming conference. All that’s left is to pack your bag and print your ticket. Have fun, and don’t forget, you are representing not only your Institute, but also your Supervisor.

For more ‘tips’, check out the tweets below. What are your top poster tips, or pet poster peeves?


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