Powerful Poster Presentations: Sketch a Basic Layout

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After you've identified the main points, it's time to sketch a basic layout factoring in the conference's guidelines on size and the procedure for how your poster will be viewed. You'll also need to consider your budget constraints.

Select an appropriate size. The sizes of posters vary according to the guidelines specified by the organization sponsoring the event. Follow these requirements. If the guidelines state the poster should be no bigger than 48" by 48," and you arrive with one that is larger, it's likely you'll overlap on another presenter's poster making you either unable to show your poster, or at the very least, very unpopular with a peer. Here are some common poster sizes. 

Some Common Poster Sizes

48" X 36" 48" X 48" 48" X 72" 48" X 96"
42" X 36" 42" X 42" 42" X 48" 42" X 52"

The three most common sizes are 48" X 48" (or X "72  or X"96). There is, however, a great deal of variety in size restrictions because it often depends on the size of the venue. You may also be required to have a border around your poster because printers don't print to the edge of the page. You'll need to be precise in your measurements. After you've determined the size of your poster, hand draw a basic sketch to get a general idea of your layout. Make choices based on what you've decided to highlight.

Know the location and the exact size of the assigned space you will have. Consider if it is free standing, attached to a wall, or on a cork-board. What materials will the hosts provide? What are the set-up and dismantle times? Practicing good citizenship with respect to the rules of the organization is not just nice, it's also important to your professional reputation.

You may also need to consider your budget in this preliminary stage. Poster printing can run from $50 to $500! For example, the Engineering Copy Center offers large format printing based on the square foot. Occasionally there are funds that are available to support scholarship, travel and other related expenses. You may want to check with your adviser or department head to find out.

Also consider how you will transport your poster to the meeting. The easiest and most common method is to print it, laminate it, roll it up, place it in a protective tube, and hand-carry it to your location to ensure its arrival. Horror stories about the loss of an important poster during air travel exist!

After you've hand-sketched your poster, the next step is to decide what software you'd like to use. There are many free templates for scientific posters. By far the most common is PowerPoint. PowerPoint templates are easy to use, but they are relatively inflexible and less creative. Other programs that cost more, are more difficult to use, but give you more creative control, are Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Canvas, Publish-it, Corel Draw, and LaTeX.

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