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Posters are a legitimate and popular presentation format for research and clinical vignettes. They efficiently communicate concepts and data to an audience using a combination of visuals and text. Most scientific meeting planners take advantage of the popularity and communication efficiency of poster presentations by scheduling more poster than oral presentations. Poster presentations allow the author to meet and speak informally with interested viewers, facilitating a greater exchange of ideas and networking opportunities than with oral presentations. Poster presentations often are the first opportunities for young investigators to present their work at important scientific meetings and preparatory for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
In order to be successful, certain prerequisites must be met. First, you must have a desire to be scholastically effective and be willing to put the time into the design and production of the poster. Second, you need organizational skills. Like any other endeavor associated with deadlines, you must be able to deliver the product on time. Posters are associated with more deadlines than oral presentations, due to the necessary interaction with graphic artists, graphic production, and the needs of the meeting itself. Organizational skills are also needed to create a concise and logically structured graphic and text presentation of the research or vignette. In order to help you achieve these goals, this article addresses poster planning, production, and presentation. It may be helpful to create a poster production timeline.
Scientific posters should follow the IMRAD format (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion).
Clinical vignette posters generally have three components: Introduction, Case Description, and Discussion. A short Introduction typically describes the context of the case and explains its relevance and importance. When describing the case, follow the basic rules of medical communication by describing in sequence the history, physical examination, investigative studies, and patient's progress and outcome. The main purpose of the discussion is to review why decisions were made and to extract the lesson from the case. Be wary of boasting that your case is the "first" to describe a particular phenomenon, since even the most thorough searches often fail to reveal all instances of similar cases. Keep in mind that the best research and clinical vignette posters are those that make a small number of points (even just one) clearly and succinctly.
As you review your content, make decisions on what can be displayed pictorially. Posters that are mainly text discourage others from visiting and reviewing your work. Make your presentation as visual as possible; not only does it make your poster more appealing, but information can be transmitted more efficiently with a picture, figure, or graph. For example, information on patient demographics could be represented as a pie chart, frequencies of outcomes as bar graphs, and comparisons of means and statistical significance as tables. Clinical vignettes offer an excellent opportunity to display clinical photographs that illustrate important points of pattern recognition.
Finally, find out if you are required to be present during the poster session. Most scientific meetings schedule a period of time for the author to stand by the poster during the session. This enables you to answer questions about your work and, in some situations, is part of the judging process. Find out if and when this is scheduled.
Limit your poster presentation to a few main ideas. It's better to present a few of your findings well than present all of your findings poorly. Arrange your poster components to read from left to right and top to bottom. Emphasize important points on the poster with lines, frames or boxes, and arrows.
Keep the lettering simple.
Use no more than three different font sizes; the largest for the poster title, second-largest for section titles, and smallest for text. For all lettering, use both upper- and lowercase letters. Words composed of all uppercase letters are difficult to read. The smallest font should be large enough so it is easily read from a distance of 3 to 5 feet (usually, 24-point font).
Keep the colors simple.
Too much color can be distracting, while too little color can be boring and lifeless. Use color mainly to highlight important elements.
You will need to decide how your poster will be constructed. Your budget and available graphic art resources will most likely influence this decision. At one end of the spectrum, you can inexpensively produce a poster with a graphics software package (such as PowerPoint) and a color printer. Your output will be limited to individual components that measure 8" × 11" to 11" × 17". These components will probably need to be mounted on a stiff backing, such as poster board or foam core, to effectively display them. At the other, more expensive end of the spectrum, you can work with the graphic arts department at your institution. They can use sophisticated software programs, such as Quark, to design and create a poster. The electronic version of the poster can be sent by e-mail to a printing or service bureau. Service bureaus produce a variety of visual products including posters, slides, signs, and limited print editions of books. They can print any size poster with all its component parts as a single unit usually within 24 to 48 hours. The cost of this service is difficult to estimate because it is dependent on a number of variables including poster size, use of color, resolution of the print (dpi, or dots per inch), whether it is laminated, or backed with foam core. A moderately priced poster may cost from $500 to $600. The staff in your graphic arts department can help you pick the options that are within your budget.
At the time of production, it is your responsibility to review the first draft, or copy, of the poster. This is your best chance to correct errors and make changes to improve the accuracy and visual attractiveness of the poster. Use the Poster Checklist to aid your review. In addition, have a colleague help you proofread. It's a good idea to have someone unfamiliar with the research or case help you because he or she will quickly identify areas that are confusing or ambiguous. It's a good idea to have someone who is expert in spelling and grammar review the poster as well. As mentioned previously, schedule the proofreading early enough in the process so that you have time to make any corrections or changes prior to the meeting.
As you prepare to travel to the scientific meeting, consider the following tips:
This final section provides examples of what makes a poster effective. As you study the examples, note that they share similar characteristics:
Listed below are a number of important poster characteristics and examples illustrating those characteristics: