Poster Presentations

Research posters are the most common way of communicating research findings and receiving feedback at professional conferences. Conferences often have many more poster presentations than oral presentations. While your poster should stand alone as a communication tool, it should also function as a visual aid and conversation-starter for people interested in your type of work and help encourage people to seek you out at the designated poster session to discuss your work and possible collaborations or connections to related research.

Many STAR Alumni go on to present their poster at professional conferences after STAR. Your poster can also be an important addition to your classroom, providing 'real-world' examples of STEM work and highlighting your background as a teacher-researcher. During the STAR Research Conference there will be multiple poster sessions. Although all posters will be hanging up at the same time, you will be assigned a poster session in which conference attendees can expect to find you at your poster. While it is a great idea to prepare a 90 second 'elevator-talk' about your work using your poster as a visual aid, poster sessions encourage a more fluid discussion time as you find out about their interests, they find out about your work, and you may also consider sharing other ideas.

If this is your first year as a STAR Fellow your research presentation must be a research poster. A certain number of STAR Alumni will be given the option to prepare an oral presentation instead. The ten-minute oral presentation with 5-minute follow-up for questions and answers is the second most common research presentation format.


Almost every conference has specific requirements that your poster must meet in order to be accepted and presented. The STAR conference is no exception. A good poster will help you expand your professional network and communicate important ideas to your peers, students, and potential employers for years to come. A poor poster presentation may detract from the perceived value of your research. Good poster design takes a substantial amount of time. Be certain that your poster meets the requirements, start creating it early, and allow time for peer review in your workshop and editing. There are several key deadlines you must meet for the Program to run smoothly, which are available on the Program page. The nine-week program is very busy and goes by incredibly quickly. It is important that you demonstrate your professionalism by keeping track of deadlines and meeting them. If it looks like you might have trouble meeting a deadline, make contact with the others involved before the deadline arrives. The poster submission deadlines to your site and STAR are 'hard deadlines' and cannot be extended.

Important note: A few partner lab sites require that you use their poster presentation template. In these cases, the lab site requirements supersede the STAR requirements.

  • Lab Site Security Clearance Submission Deadline - Several sites require security clearance before your research can be presented offsite. You are not permitted to edit the presentation after receiving clearance so be sure to manage your time and submit your presentation to your lab site coordinator by the deadline.
  • Abstract and Title Deadline - You must submit your poster title and abstract text (max. 300 words) to STAR by the posted deadline (see Program page) using the online submission process. There are some helpful ideas about abstracts below. Abstract do not appear on your poster, they will be printed in the Conference Program.
  • Physical Print Size - Posters must be no larger than 40" wide and no longer than 44" high. It can be in portrait or landscape orientation within these limits. Please create your poster as a document with the actual printed margin. Posters scaled-to-fit will look very different. You may design your print right to the edge of this size as the printers will trim it from a larger sheet of matte paper. Typical 'standard' poster sizes that meet this requirement and may already be preloaded in your software layouts are metric A1 (23.4" x 33.1"), B1 (27.8" x 39.4"), C1 (25.5" x 36.1") and American sizes of ANSI E (34" x 44") and ANSI D (22" x 34") and Architectural size Arch D (24" x 36"). Do not reduce size in your .pdf output. Your poster should print at the appropriate physical size when printed at 100% scale.
  • Content - Your poster must contain the following subsections regarding your individual research project:
    • Title
    • Authors (your name and names of collaborators with superscripts indicating institutional affiliations). Each STAR Fellow must be the lead author on one poster. Some labs have two STAR Fellows working together closely on a project. Each STAR Fellow should produce a poster, which focuses on a specific aspect of the work and therefore each may be a co-author on the other Fellow's poster. Be certain that all co-authors give you permission to list them and ensure that they have appropriate input and review access to the presentation. All authors should be made aware that this work will be made publicly available at the Cal Poly Digital Commons.  
    • Affiliations (matching author superscripts)
    • Objectives (or Aims, Introduction, Background, etc.)
    • Methods
    • Results (or Findings)
    • Discussion (or Conclusions, Summary, etc.)
    • Bibliography (or Cited References, References, etc.) if you make reference to specific published work elsewhere in your poster. Do not cite general references.
    • Acknowledgments STAR provides text to include in this section acknowledging the funder supporting your work directly, also list any other sources of funding or in-kind support your work received. You must also include the logo of your indicated funder and STAR. You may include other logos as appropriate. STAR and funder logos and text are included on the USB drive provided to each Fellow at the start of the program.
  • Do not include your poster abstract or a 'mugshot' photo of yourself on your poster - The STAR conference book will have your abstract printed in it to summarize your work, and your poster is essentially an illustrated abstract of your research itself. The book will also have your photo in it so that your peers can find you during the conference to talk about your work.

Guidelines for Overall Design

Your primary goal in creating the poster is to simply, and clearly communicate a story which leads the reader through 1) what you intended to do, 2) what you did, 3) what you found out, and 4) what you think about your results. You can assume that your audience is well-educated university graduates who are not experts in your research field. Keep it simple. Arrange your sections in a logical progression that you can use to give a 'guided tour' through your poster in person.

To have an effective poster, we recommend following two guidelines rigidly:

  1. A research poster is a visual medium. Try to convey as much of the key information in uncluttered diagrams, simple pictures, and clear, well-labeled infographics. Some of the most effective posters are designed around the single graph or image which best represents the work. After you reflect upon your work and try to express your most complex descriptions, results, or ideas as pictures, graphs, or other infographics, show them to your peers outside your research group and see what they understand without additional explanation.
  2. Limit yourself to 500-700 words in the main text (not including titles, captions, acknowledgments, and references). This is usually very hard to do and you may be tempted to use more words, but people will very rarely read more in a poster. By working on your graphics and text first you can prune down to the essentials and be more likely to get your message across. You should have enough text for the reader to understand your work even if you are not there.

Here are some other points to consider:

  • Use only two or three colors where possible in fonts or diagrams and graphs that require categorical interpretation (e.g. green=before, red=after, etc.).
  • Make background and foreground color choices in your photos and figures to highlight what you think is most important. Avoid clashing colors.
  • Tell your story with diagrams, graphs, and photos in the important sections.
  • Avoid including data tables with more than a few rows and columns.
  • Do use annotated flow charts or chronological photos if your work centered on a concept or process instead of narrative text. Gantt charts can help illustrate complex timelines.
  • Choose fonts and colors to maximize contrast. A dark font on a light background is easier to read than vice versa.
  • Choose fonts and font sizes for the main text areas that are easy to read from a meter or more away. A good test is to print out your poster as US Letter or A4 size. All of your main text, graphic labels, and captions should be easily readable and any figures understandable. If they are not, your fonts are too small for easy, standing-up conference reading. This is also helpful because your poster will appear as a US Letter-sized page in the conference program.
  • Avoid technical jargon where possible.
  • Annotate photos, sometimes diagrams show what the reader NEEDS to know more simply.
  • Organize and reduce text by using subheadings and bullet points.
  • Have one or more editors who are not involved with the work go over a mini-print of your early-draft poster to mark what they do and do not understand. It may be helpful to have them do this when you are NOT present.
  • Have one or more good editors who are not involved with the work go over your late draft copy searching for spelling and grammatical errors. Don't let errors distract from your research.
  • Consider using a style guide for your research field (e.g. AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors)

Colin Purrington has provided some very insightful poster-design guidelines and tools on this website.

Poster Design Software

There are many different ways to create posters and the process and software you use is up to you. Your Research Mentor and Workshop Leaders may prefer one method over another. You may wish to follow their preference so that they can help you most effectively, but you may choose how to create your poster as long as you meet the requirements above. Some software packages and guides are listed below, but STAR does not imply endorsement of any particular package.

Microsoft PowerPoint - (Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS) Commercial software available for purchase or monthly use over the net. Provides basic text and graphic placement tools which can be saved as .pdf files. Many people are familiar with PowerPoint. Does not check your output, nor is it very flexible for page layout purposes (Screencast Guide to Making a poster with PowerPoint - link not yet active)

Scribus - (Linux, Windows, MacOS) Free, open-source professional page layout software with extensive graphic and text manipulation tools allowing for clear and creative posters. Also verifies your layout prior to output in several formats, specifically created to produce high-quality print products and .pdf files. (Screencast Guide to Making a poster with Scribus - link not yet active)

LaTeX - (Linux, Windows, MacOS) Free, open-source scientific document preparation system aimed at typesetting. Can be difficult to use for the first time, but has many poster templates. Software is broadly used in the production of technical and scientific documentation because it focuses on categorizing information instead of artistic layout.

Adobe InDesign - (Windows 7+, MacOS 10.7+) Professional page layout software, which provides extensive graphics and text manipulation tools allowing for clear and creative posters. Also verifies your layout prior to output in several formats, specifically created to produce high-quality print products and pdf files.

Specialty commercial poster tools such as PosterGenius - (Windows, MacOS, Linux beta) Accessible step-by-step poster construction process, which may help you reduce the time taken by using common layouts.

The Poster Creation Process

Ideally you would write your presentation abstract AFTER you create your poster. However, conference and printing deadlines usually dictate that you submit your abstract in advance. The STAR conference is no exception. When you write an abstract before you have finished your presentation, be sure that you fairly represent your work, but do not trap yourself by stating conclusions before all analyses are complete.

Before starting your poster, spend a few minutes examining posters in the Cal Poly Digital Commons STAR Archive for ideas. Also search the web for other creative ideas you may wish to incorporate into your poster design. People may read your poster by themselves or be there with you as a guide. Look at which posters draw you in to learn more or make you want to ask questions and emulate what you like best.

Just like a lab notebook is a record of your research work, taking photos of the specimens or apparatus you use as you do the work (where permitted) is a useful way to document your research, which also helps you create your presentation. After writing out a draft of the text of your presentation, examine the imagery you have and consider the graphs or diagrams you can create to support or replace some of your text. Once you decide which to use, write the captions for each figure or table. The next step is to let your creativity shine by combining your text and imagery on Desktop Publishing (page layout) software.

Print out a mini-poster draft shrunk to fit on a letter or foolscap size paper. The text and graphics on this reduced size should still be fairly comfortable to read. Ask your non-expert peer-editors to review your mini-poster and mark up what the do and do not understand. After you incorporate your changes, make sure a good editor reviews yoru work for graphical, spelling and grammatical errors.

Writing a good abstract 

Your abstract is typically the only thing published directly from a conference. Abstracts are NOT put on your poster. You will submit your research presentation title and abstract before your actual presentation (see submission process below). In professional societies, editors usually review only the abstract when deciding who may or may not be given time/space to present their work. Having a good abstract is important and should be the last thing you do after putting your presentation together (whenever time permits). If done before the presentation, which often happens, it becomes the outline upon which your presentation must be created and remain faithful. For the majority of your audience, your work does not exist beyond its abstract. It is not an attempt to attract people to your presentation for the important bits, but should summarize your work effectively.

Abstracts formats vary from discipline to discipline, but are usually 200-500 words in maximum length and comprised of very brief sentences forming a clear progression. Be certain to carefully read and adhere to any specific requirements of the conference you will attend. Do not assume that 'a few words over' is okay, often the abstract will simply be cut short. An abstract should include: 

  1. Background - present what is known and not known about the subject relevant to your paper. Don't cite other works unless your work is based on it.
  2. Methods - very broadly, state how you approached your question (survey, field work, prototype, etc).
  3. Results - describe the core data produced by your methods and analysis
  4. Conclusions- boldly and unambiguously state the 'take-home message' of your work.

Your abstract should be concise, self-contained, accurate, non-evaluative (don't present personal opinions about your work), and readable. Avoid jargon whenever possible. Use the language appropriate for your audience, but don't spend time defining terms or concepts specialists understand and which will be covered in your presentation. We have taken two example abstracts from university student projects in biology and engineering similar to many STAR projects and modified them as Examples for you to review.


Poster Submission Process

STAR Fellows presenting research posters must prepare their presentation as a single pdf file with all images and fonts embedded within the file. Submit your pdf using the online submission processes by the deadlines (see Program). Posters submitted to lab site security clearances are NOT forwarded to us by the lab. There are several steps involved:

  1. Obtain approval for public release from your Research Mentor and co-authors.
  2. Obtain approval for public release from your lab site security (if required, check with your Lab Site Coordinator).
  3. Submit your research title and abstract to STAR online by the deadline.
  4. Submit your poster pdf file to STAR online by the deadline.
  5. STAR will print your poster and bring it to the Research Conference. If you need your poster for a lab site event prior to the Research Conference, it is usually best if you are able to print it at your lab site which can then invoice STAR ( directly for printing costs. If you must print at a location that is unable to invoice STAR, then please contact STAR. In these cases we will ask that all Fellows go to a single printer which will charge for printing over the phone. STAR will pay for matte or glossy printing on paper only. STAR does not currently pay for extras such as cloth printing or lamination.
  6. Finally, you must upload your poster to the Cal Poly Digital commons. You will receive (if you wish) monthly reports on how many people download your research.