For the clinical researcher hoping to find a wider audience for their findings, a national or international medical conference may offer the ideal first step before considering submitting a paper to a journal. Aside from giving a presentation during a session, an interactive and versatile way of communicating your results is through a scientific poster.
The poster session is one of the most enduring, and popular, aspects of the modern medical conference, with sometimes hundreds of clinical research posters presented each day at the largest international meetings. While there have been numerous innovations in recent years to bring the humble laminated sheet into the digital age, such as touchscreen versions, QR-codes and other kinds of integration with online content, the aim remains unchanged: to catch the attention of passing attendees and convey your message as succinctly and clearly as possible.
However, the impact of your clinical research can be undermined if your poster is not well thought-out and well designed. There are a number of areas to consider when developing your poster, including:
- The message: It is important to narrow down what you want to say about your clinical research into a few, short statements. The information you want to convey should be organized into groups, each with a coherent focus, and then present ideally as bulleted lists or in short paragraphs. This helps to get your point across as quickly and effectively as possible.
- Style: Choose a professional, crisp and easy-to-read font. The title should be prominent and not all in capital letters, as this makes it harder to read. The poster should be divided into sections, typically the IMRAD format of: Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion. Finally, all paragraphs should be formatted in the same way. Short and punchy sentences should be preferred, always in the active voice.
- Graphic design: An overall entity, and in terms of each section, attention should be paid to the graphical design. The layout of the poster will help attendees follow the correct flow of information and, ultimately, understand what your clinical research has revealed. Graphics should be used to increase the reading efficiency and impact of your posters, and help to grab attention. Importantly, however, the design of your poster should be balanced, with the right amount of space given to each element.
- Graphs: Where possible, your clinical research data should be presented as a graph, whether as a chart or histogram. There are a huge range of graphs to represent comparisons between items or over time, distributions of single or many variables, relationships between two or more variables, and compositions that are static or changing over time. Tables are also an option for showing your data.
- Visual perception: Do you have some key points or results from your clinical research that you want people to grasp immediately? Are these shown by graphs, tables, photos, figures or keywords and statements? Then it may be worth placing these in the middle and arranging the other aspects of your clinical research around the sides. Otherwise, bear in mind that the human eye is, conventionally, drawn to the upper left corner. A combination of good design and compelling messages will keep their attention all the way down to the lower right corner.
- Colour: Use colours to attract attention, develop associations, retain attention and create an aesthetically pleasing whole. However, do not over-use colour, and make sure your colours combinations are not off-putting.
If you are attending the meeting where your poster will be shown, consider having handouts to give to people interested in your research. The handout can be a condensed version of your poster or a catchy flyer with QR code that links to an electronic version and other supplementary information. Another consideration is to bring on-board a professional medical communications expert at an early stage of developing your poster. They can help identify the most important statements and suggest the most attention-grabbing way of presenting your data, and help with the design.
Our company is a medical communications agency offering medical writing and marketing services. Let us help you with the presentation your findings as scientific posters, manuscripts and other materials that help your data and messages reach as wide an audience as possible.