Poster Presentations

Poster Guidelines

Most poster presentation events follow similar guidelines, so much of this advice will be relevant to professional conferences, in addition to all USU Office of Research events including the Fall and Spring Student Research Symposia. If you intend to reuse your poster at future events, check their guidelines for any  unique expectations or requirements.

  • Poster dimensions should be no larger than 40″ tall x 48″ wide
  • Posters should be no thicker than a standard poster weight (no foam core backing)
  • Hanging materials (T-pins) will be provided
  • Posters must be readable from three feet away
  • Presenters must be available to discuss their poster during the whole session

Designing Your Poster

There are numerous resources available to you as you begin to build your poster. Here at USU, we offer students a variety of possible templates to build a traditional academic poster.

Download Poster Templates

The Better Poster Format

There is a growing conversation surrounding the academic poster format and its use. Critics point out that the tradition of using small fonts and large textblocks to include as much information from your project or research article on a single poster as possible creates a ‘visual aid’ that is both visually displeasing and not helpful to you or your audience; supporters point out that research is complex and that distilling your project to a single sentence and some bullet points is oversimplification at best and misleading at worst.

If you want to learn more about the Better Poster designs, watch the following video!
This video has been created by an individual unaffiliated with USU and presenting personal views. The content includes some profanity.

Building Your Poster

Our templates are an improvement over the tightly-packed posters you might see at a professional conference but more detailed than some of the proposed ‘better posters’. Regardless of the poster template or design you decide to use, here are some helpful tips to make the most of your visual aid.


Most academics lack the experience needed to efficiently build a good poster design from the ground up through a creative software application. Unless you have sufficient experience in using such software, we recommend that you design your work in Microsoft PowerPoint. This allows you to build your poster in a high resolution that will print well on a full-sized poster while giving you flexibility to move the elements of your work around as you decide how you want the poster to flow.

Make sure you set your slides to match your poster dimensions.

  1. Open PowerPoint
  2. Choose ‘New Presentation’ and select the layout you plan to use
  3. Click File > Page Setup and change the ‘slides fixed for’ to ‘custom’ and set 48 width x 36 height, traditional poster sizing
    • Confirm landscape orientation
  4. Click ‘Okay’ to save changes

Elements of Your Poster

The purpose of your poster may vary by event: for example, in some conferences your poster will be left up for people to review at their leisure outside of the assigned poster session time, in which case you would want it to serve as a stand-alone summary of your project.

For the on-campus conferences hosted by the Office of Research, however, you'll be by your poster the whole time it's on display.

This means that you can use your poster as a way to emphasize what you say to your audience, to guide the reader towards certain questions or talking points, or even to help you remember what you plan to say. Your poster should help you by reflecting the flow of your verbal presentation.

Most poster designs break the project down into modular boxes, with some space for visual aids such as charts, graphs, or pictures interspersed with text boxes. As you consider what template or layout will serve you best, think about what modules would fit your project. Some common modules/poster sections include:

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Objectives
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Conclusions
  • Significance
  • Next Steps
  • Acknowledgments

Select the modules that make the most sense for your project and are most important — not all will fit. Then, arrange them in a way that follows the reader’s likely natural tendency to start at top left, so they’ll be following along in the order of your verbal presentation.

Visual Aids

Your poster is now ready to populate! As you fill in your poster template, keep in mind the entirety of your poster is to serve as a prop to the conversations you’ll have; it should illustrate your main points.

The most effective way to use your poster is to ensure that it does not rely on text — you will verbally fill the audience in rather than have them read it, so prioritize elements like charts, graphs, images, and other visually-useful components that you’ll be able to naturally refer to during your presentation. This will also make your poster visually interesting and draw in a larger audience.

  • Pay attention to the resolution of your components, avoiding a blown-out photograph or pixellated chart in your printed poster
  • Ensure that your visuals adhere to the color scheme of your overall poster and avoid bright, neon, or primary colors that will overwhelm the poster
  • Photographs should:
    • Be relevant to the project
    • Illustrate a key step in your methodology, result or other section you use them in
    • Include only participants that give you permission to use the image
  • Charts/graphs should:
    • Fit the data type (pie charts for percentages out of 100, bar charts to compare multiple variables, line chart for data over time, etc.)
    • Be 2-D (3-D pie charts, for example, distort the proportions of data and can mislead the audience)
    • Be consistent in scale, color key (if purple represents the College of Science in one bar graph, it should represent the same college in any other graph), and unit of measurement
    • Be clearly titled, with all axes or data points labeled
    • Have solid backgrounds in keeping with your design

As a researcher, it is your responsibility to ensure that your poster ethically and accurately represents your work. Taking care with your visual aids is especially important, as poorly-executed graphs or charts can easily lead your audience to inaccurate assumptions about your results.

Write to your audience
Think about what your audience will and won’t know. At many conferences, you’ll have an interdisciplinary audience that is educated but not an expert in your field. Word your poster for the audience. Avoid jargon!

Keep text simple
Keep your text boxes simple. Use sentences, bullet points, lists, etc., and avoid large paragraphs or blocks of text. Use visual aids to break up text.

Proofread for grammar and spelling mistakes. Have your mentor review it. Then have someone else unfamiliar with your project read it too.

Practice your presentation with your poster! Is there a graph you never talk about? Do you wish you had other information on the poster to point to when you talk? If you do this in advance, you’ll have time to change your poster.

Be consistent
Be consistent. Stick to one or two legible, simple fonts, keep font sizes large and the same throughout your sections (if it doesn’t fit, you have too many words!), and use a muted color palette.

Keep white space
Keep white space! Give your information room to breathe, maintain the modular design of your sections, and keep column sizes and spacing the same.

6-foot rule
The majority of your audience will be reading your poster at a distance before deciding to come talk to you. A rule of thumb is to size your fonts so that the whole poster can be read from 6 feet away.

Be mindful
Be mindful that your audience may include people that have additional needs. Did you know that nearly 10% of adults have some degree of color deficiency and cannot easily distinguish between some colors? Have you considered how difficult a wheelchair-seated person may find reading a small font near the top of your poster? There are some very easy things you can do to ensure that your presentation is more accessible to most people, such as choosing a different color scheme or maintaining large fonts.

See guide for Oral Presentations