Every year, at hotels all over the world, scientists from every field in science flock to these giant academic conferences. They’re like WOODSTOCK for geeks in that field. Scientists go to these conferences to learn about the new research going on in their field, and to share the work they’re doing with everybody else. And to drink and hang out with friends from other universities who they don’t get to see very often. So it’s like a big, social knowledge update for the whole field. And at most all of these conferences there’s something called a research poster session. And research poster sessions are where researchers share findings that didn’t fit into bigger sessions or bigger presentations. Scientists take some new research finding some new truth about the world… …and they try to explain it on this giant research poster. These research poster sessions are one of the main ways that scientists share knowledge with each other. And they have the potential to be this really great experience… …for both the person presenting the research poster, and the person walking around looking at all the research posters. But in reality scientists have mixed feelings about research poster sessions. A lot of us go into research poster sessions feeling like, kind of optimistic, and then we come out feeling like disappointed and underwhelmed. And here’s why. First, here’s what it feels like to present a research poster. If you’re going to be the person presenting the research poster, you’re first thinking like “oh this will be great.” I’ll put all this work that I’m really passionate about on this big beautiful research poster. And people will walk by it and be like “oh cool research!” And I’ll be like “oh you think so? Let’s talk about!” And then we’ll have this really engaging conversation we’re like *I* learned things, and THEY learned things. And other people will walk by and like “oh great research,” and they’ll get to learn what I’m doing. And I’ll feel like I’m getting to share what I’m doing with the world and with other scientists. And sometimes.
Why shouldn’t you attend a poster session?
Like, very, very rarely; you will get like HALF of that experience. But that’s the BEST case. Most of the time, you’re standing by your research poster all eager… While people just walk by you and don’t even look at your research poster, as if you don’t exist, while you try to like STARE THEM DOWN out of desperation. Like, “Please, SOMEONE, RESPOND TO MY WORK.” And then the whole hour the research poster session goes by and no one has even — not even not just ENGAGED with your research poster — but no one has LOOKED at your research poster. Then you just take your research poster down, and you look at it, and you remember that it cost $100 to print… …and then you throw it away. And then you think “Maybe my research wasn’t that interesting anyway.” and “That was a complete waste of time” Now, here’s how it feels to ATTEND a research poster session. The experience of attending a research poster session and walking around trying to learn from all the research posters, can be even worse than it is for the presenter. OK, it’s not WORSE than it is for the presenter. Nothing’s worse than presenting a research poster session. But it’s still pretty bad. Again, you start off with very high hopes. You picture yourself walking through and like BREATHING IN all the latest research in your field. Learning stuff you never thought to think about before, and really just like getting more enlightened as a scientist and getting all new ideas for the stuff you’re doing. But it never, ever works out that way. In reality, most the time you walk in and there’s all these presenters standing there by all their research posters and they’re like locking eyes with you and watching you as you pass because they’re all so bored and desparate for you to engage with them and like validate their research. And their research posters are just like walls of incomprehensible text that you can’t interpret very quickly. So what you do is you kind of like avoid the too intense eye contact of the presenters while trying to quickly and surreptitiously scan the titles of the research posters.
Trying to get an idea of one or two you might want to check out. And the title of the research poster just sort of gives you a general idea of what the study did. Like, the research question they asked. Not even the answer. It’s kind of abstract and a little too technical, but if you can get the general idea, then maybe you engage with the research poster, and try to get closer, and try to figure out what they did, and try to LEARN something So you found a research poster that you’re kind of interested in and you walk up closer to get a general idea and scan it and read it and try to learn the core insight from it. But while you’re doing that the desperate presenter, who’s standing like two feet away from you and staring at you, notices you looking at their research poster. And they’re like “Any questions? Any questions?! Let me know if you have questions!!!” And then you feel like you want to be polite, so you talk to the presenter. And maybe you have a pretty good conversation and you learn about what’s on the research poster and you eventually learn that key punchline of the study after you’ve asked a bunch of follow-up questions. But you end up staying at the research poster longer than you need to. Even past the point of learning what you wanted from it. Because you’re in a conversation! You don’t want to be rude to just cut the presenter off. But meanwhile, like this is taking a lot of time. You usually have less than an hour to browse all the research posters. And that’s if you showed up on time. Which you didn’t. So the minutes are going by while you’re having this conversation and doing all these social niceties and trying to figure out a polite way to exit the conversation. And usually after just ONE of these conversations, you realize that time is limited and you’ve got to like skim harder and avoid eye contact harder So you breeze through the rest of the research posters. Maybe stop at one more. But you’re really, really desperately skimming now. So you’re forced to adopt a strategy, where you spend a lot of time at one or maybe even two research posters.
.. maybe even past the point where you’ve gotten the insight you wanted. And then you’ve used up most of your time, so you have to skip around and breeze through the rest of the research posters and barely even read the titles. And then you leave the research poster session feeling a little disappointed uneasy, but still trying to convince yourself that it was productive. Like, “oh I’m super glad I spent 35 minutes talking about that one research poster that I wasn’t even super interested in” “That was a good use of my time. It was.” “I’m sure there was nothing on ANY of the other research posters that was remotely relevant to me…” So the point is you may have had one good conversation — or two maybe — but you didn’t really learn as much as you had hoped to learn from the whole session. And you wonder what insights you might have missed on all those other research posters you didn’t have time to get to. So this all kind of sucks for you when you walk around trying to learn from the research posters… And it also sucks when you’re the presenter trying to make an impact with your research poster that nobody’s looking at. But there’s something much more sinister going wrong here… And that’s that when you’re walking around trying to learn from this research poster session and you’re only able to interact with one or two research posters, you’re MISSING all the insight from the research posters you had to breeze by and skim. And these missed insights are all like part of your field you’re supposed to know all of this stuff. A lot of them probably apply to the scientific problems you’re wrestling with in some direct or tangential way. And you’re missing them! You’re only getting like one or two points before time runs out and you gotta leave. So not only are research poster sessions kind of a lackluster experience for everybody involved, but they’re also really inefficient at transferring knowledge to people walking through the research poster sessions. And that means it’s slowing down the learning.
It’s slowing down scientific progress. Which is actually holding the human race back in a non insignificant way. That sounds like hyperbole but I actually mean it. Maybe the research in your field isn’t very important — and I’m in psychology so I get that — but if you’re studying something that people are suffering from, like cancer or Alzheimer’s or MECFS Like one of those missed research posters could contain some finding you hadn’t thought about that triggers a moment of insight that helps you cure that disease sooner than you would have if you had missed that research poster. And all of these missed insights are happening in mass in EVERY single field of science right now. This isn’t just a design frustration. This is a serious problem . I think a lot of these problems come down to the way we approach designing academic research posters. So let’s see if we can fix that. Okay here’s how the research poster “design process” works…if you can call it a design process… Six months before the conference you write an essay talking about your research findings that you want to put on your research poster. And then you submit that to the conference, and then hopefully it gets approved, and then you’re happy because that means your school will pay for your travel. And then you forget about it, for like five months. Until about two weeks before the conference. And while you’re already worrying about everything else you have to do for the conference: …plane tickets, packing things like that…it suddenly hits you. And you’re like “oh…oh…oh shit shit shit shit… I actually have to CREATE the damn research poster.” “Uh… crap.” And then you get like really idealistic. You’re like “you know what, I’m gonna make this the best research poster ever!” So you open a blank PowerPoint file and you get started… And then like an hour later you’re like “uh crap nothing’s done and this is going nowhere and I need to get this done and to the printer by 2:00 tomorrow and I don’t have time to do this perfectionistic crap I just gotta like.
..I need something done. Now. That doesn’t make me look stupid.” So you desperately email one of your senior grad student friends and they’re like “No problem. I got you covered. Here’s the research poster design I always use!” “It was handed down to me by Susie. Oh you never got to meet Susie… ” “She was one of the senior students that graduated before you got here I was like four years ago” “Susie was amazing. Anyway, this is the design I always use. It works for me. Hope it helps.” And you’re like “great great great it’s perfect.” And what you’re really thinking is like “I don’t have time to be original here” “I’ve just got to get this done and to the printer and it’s my first year of grad school or whatever” “…and I’m kind of afraid of looking unprofessional” “or looking like I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t have really time to think this through.” So what do you do in times of uncertainty? You mimic. You copy somebody else, and that makes you feel safe. So you open up your friend’s template, and then whatever is on that old, hand-me-down research poster design, you copy. Like whatever they did, you do. If they had their entire introduction paragraph copy-and-pasted into this tiny box in the corner, then that’s what YOU do. You take YOUR entire entire introduction paragraph and you put it in that little box! If they display like their full table of correlation coefficients that don’t all really relate to like what their central points are, that’s what you put in you put in all your correlation that’s what you put in! You put in all YOUR correlation coefficients. That helps fill up space! And then what you end up with is this monstrosity of a wall of text research poster, with like copy-and-pasted bits of your essay squeezed into these templated old boxes with like your school’s faded header on top from its 25-year old branding scheme. And your research poster just looks like a wall of mess. And SOME part of you is like “Is this legible? Like nobody can read this.
” But that part’s very quiet. The very much louder part is like “Good. It looks great. And it looks great because it looks like I did something.” It looks like I spent LONGER on this than the rushed hour that I actually spent on it. Now if you have a little extra time on your hands, you may be able to listen to that “Let’s make this a little more readable” voice. And if you have that kind of time, maybe you like add a nice graph, or turn one section of text into bullet points or something like that, or add a picture. And I’ve done this. When I first started my Ph.D program, I tried to take an extra hour with a research poster and improve the usability of it a little bit. So here’s one of my first research posters. I had like a “so what” box, and icons and pictures for everything, but it’s still just a wall of text in the same old format. And then there are these like unicorn research posters. These are the research posters that you seen ONE of at every conference if you’re lucky. And they’re beautiful. They’re like infographics, and they’re designed by either like professional applied firms, or grad students who WERE designers before coming to grad school… or they used templates or paid somebody. And these infographic style research posters make you feel completely inadequate. You’re like “man, my research poster should look like that — THAT’s a good research poster.” BUT THEY’RE STILL NOT. They’re still just a wall of PRETTY things that you can’t interpret very quickly. And they’re cardinal sin is that they expect people to be up close and reading them. The cardinal sin of every research poster I’ve seen – INCLUDING the research posters I’ve designed myself – is that we assume people are gonna like stand there and read our research posters in silence for 10 straight minutes, following the order of the sections we laid out. And when we design them, WE’RE sitting up close to them, reading them in order. So we design them for THAT kind of user experience; for a context that’s really different from how people actually read research posters at research poster sessions.
Really, the ACCURATE way to design your research poster, based on how they’re actually used, would be to project your PowerPoint file on a wall at full size and walk past it over and over again, and improve the design for the experience of learning while walking by. But none of us do that. Like watch: here are beautiful, infographic-style research posters. They’re gonna move past you at walking speed. Try to read them. Did you catch anything? Besides the title? Did you even catch the title? To learn anything from the infographic format, You have to walk up and spend a lot of time with it. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT INFOGRAPHICS ARE DESIGNED FOR. They’re designed to sustain your attention while you’re right up next to it for 5-10 minutes, reading it on your own in silence. Infographics aren’t the right goal for scientific research posters Because we just don’t spend that much time with most research posters. if anything, a BILLBOARD is a better design analogy, because THOSE are designed to transmit information as you move past them. So what SHOULD an academic research poster look like? I think an ideal academic research poster should accomplish three goals… First, we want to maximize the amount of insight transferred to attendees in the research poster session. If you’re attending a research poster session, we want to make it easy for you to interact with every research poster in some way. So that you could conceivably learn the insight that every single research poster in a session has to offer in less than 50 minutes. Second, we want keep the good stuff. We still want to leave time for having good conversations and getting deep insight about any single research poster, if you want to. And THIRD, we have to accomplish these goals in a way that is AS LAZY for grad students and scientists to create research posters with the new design under time pressure and with no free mental bandwidth. Even if this new approach to designing research posters cures cancer faster, if it’s not easier for scientists to create than what they’re currently doing it’ll never happen.
So we have to make it easy so that it’s both the RIGHT way to do it and the FAST way to do it. So let’s get started. Okay so let’s get into the right frame of mind here. We’re gonna start things off with one of the most famous quotes in all of design. Here it goes. Perfection is not when you have nothing to add… It’s when you have nothing to take away. Good designs start with something very very minimal – like a core thing – and they work from there. So that’s what we’re gonna do. And for that core thing we’re gonna follow the biggest, most reliable rule in all of usability research. You put a lot of effort into what people need to know… and then you include the stuff that’s nice to know last. So here’s a blank academic research poster. What is the minimum, need-to-know piece of information that should go on here if we could only put ONE thing on it? Well that’s probably like the main finding of the study right? So we need a finding. I’m gonna use a real finding for my friend Jacob’s study. Jacob very bravely sent me his research poster and let me use it for the video. THANK YOU JACOB. And you probably can’t tell from this research poster, but Jacob’s study is actually really cool and important. But that coolness and that importance is lost in this traditional academic research poster format. So we’re gonna take this and we’re gonna redesign it. And we’re gonna start by grabbing the main finding — the core takeaway of this study — and putting it on our blank research poster. So let’s see… what’s the main finding of this study…what’s the main finding… SEE THIS IS THE PROBLEM I’M TALKING ABOUT. It’s taking me way too damn long to find the main takeaway from this study which is pretty representative of the problem here. And that has NOTHING to do with this research poster. EVERY research poster in science like this. OK. So after reading this entire research poster I think the main finding is this bit right here “We found consistent differential validity for some non-cognitive measures for predicting international student GPA, specifically with SJ T’s, continuous learning, social responsibility, and perseverance.
So let’s put that on the research poster. And then we’re gonna change the background color. You can use your school’s color if you want to, but I think it would be extra efficient to use colors that prime people’s expectations about what type of research poster they’re about to see. Because they’ll notice the color first. Like we could use green for empirical studies because they’re the most common, blue for theory, red for methods… and yellow, the most attention-getting color, for that rare and wonderful intervention study. So this is already better, but it sounds kind of technical to anybody who doesn’t specialize in the sub feel that this relates to, which is selection or hiring decisions. Which is fine for an academic paper where people can go back and look up terms they don’t know. BUT WE DON’T HAVE THAT KINDA TIME. People are walking by in five seconds. WE GOTTA PUNCH IT IN THEIR BRAIN. And research on usability writing shows that plain language is interpreted faster, and gets people’s attention better. So the most efficient thing we can put on this research poster is actually a plain language version of our main finding. So we’re going to say for international students, perseverance and a sense of social responsibility are extra important for predicting first-year GPA. Now this kind of makes sense, right? Now you’re getting this whole story popping into your mind. But what if we’re presenting a research poster, and somebody comes up and asks us a question we don’t know the answer to? Like, “give me your full list of predictors and all the correlations.” What about those figures and tables that give us that sense of safety and the ability to answer questions? For that, we’re gonna add something called an ammo bar. The ammo bar is just gonna be a column on the right side, or whatever side you plan to stand on, and you’re gonna copy and paste all of your miscellaneous figures and tables and stuff that you need for answering questions into that bar.
You’re not gonna spend any time worrying about the design or layout of this section because it’s just for you to use. Treat it as your scratch board. Make it as ugly and as fast as you can. It’s just there so you can point to things when somebody walks up and talks to you. Now, what if you’re already talking to somebody and you’re showing them things in your ammo bar and somebody else walks up and wants to learn more about your study but doesn’t want to interrupt you well for them we’re gonna add a sidebar on the left we’re gonna call this our silent presenter bar in the silent prisoner bar you’re gonna do all the stuff you normally do on an academic research poster but you’re gonna worry about the layout of it a little less go ahead and follow the old intro methods results format copy and paste bits of your essay or add bullets and graphs if you have time just sort of give people an overview of the paper as if they were going to be standing there and reading it silently but in one to four minutes not 10 to 15 these side bars are key to this design because with the ammo bar and the silent presenter bar together we really have almost as much information on this new design as we had on the traditional design it’s just arranged much more efficiently but what if somebody wants a lot more information a lot more than you can even put on your research poster and doesn’t have time to read it or talk to you these are the people that sometimes like snap pictures of your research poster well for these people we’re gonna add a QR code that links to your full paper and a copy of the research poster these QR codes look scary but they are stupidly easy to create just Google create a QR code you’ll do it in a second and every phone can read them like if you take out your phone right now and take a picture of this QR code on the screen it’ll automatically know it’s taking a picture of a QR code and follow the link so this last QR code feature lets you snap a picture of any research poster and instantly get a copy of the whole research poster and the paper so now with this QR code option we’re actually providing an option to get even more information than traditional designs allow for and doing it in a way that lets attendees choose how much information they want to get instead of being flooded in design this is called the principle of progressive disclosure so here’s our final design now there are more things we could do with this like if you have a really important graph or an image that needs to go in the center you could move the QR code over it only needs to be about five inches big to be read you could also add your own creative flair with images and stuff but for now let’s look at the design in its simplest form let’s look at a before and after so in the next screen a few real academic research posters are going to move past you at a walking pace see how much information you can absorb now try these same research posters you just saw translated to the new design now this is gonna be a little unbelievable and jarring at first because when people see this they don’t believe that these clear findings came from the research posters they just saw but they did this is how detached current scientific research poster design is from actually communicating what you need to know here we go you absorbed more right you got the gist of probably every research poster if you wanted to know more you could still walk up and talk or read the silent presenter bar or just scan the QR code and keep walking so this new design meets our goals it helps transfer insight more efficiently by leading with the main finding and making it big and obvious and in plain language you can still walk up and have good conversations with people and for our third goal and I hope you can tell from looking at it but this approach is way easier for grad students to create you can create this research poster design in much less time than you’re spending on your current method so let’s look at the presenter experience now everybody who walks by it looks at your research poster at least because looking at your research poster is less effortful and it’s more rewarding to look which is already an improvement and now people who walk by can engage with your research poster quickly by snapping a QR code which still makes you feel good if you see somebody do it and you still get those conversations perhaps even more of them because your hook is better and now look at the attendee experience you get that feeling of breathing and insight as you walk past and you have more options as an attendee to choose your level of engagement with research posters you’re interested in you don’t have to get trapped in a conversation to learn something from a research poster and look at how it could accelerate learning you can conceivably walk into a research poster session with this design and learn something from every single research poster instead of just one or two if every scientist in every field used a design like this instead of the crappy old wall of text template they’re using right now it can accelerate insight and discovery and be more fun for everybody the reason I spent a year of my life making this cartoon instead of publishing papers like I’m supposed to be doing is because I really think that it everybody uses a design like this we could accelerate the pace of science we could cure all diseases slightly sooner and that’s everything to the people suffering from them I really believe in this design I know it’s jarring ly different than what you’re used to using but for what it’s worth when actual designers design research posters and billboards their first advice is to keep it simple and be comfortable with negative space which this design really does also we’re gonna do a validation study on this new design so if you’re a researcher and you’re up for participating in a study to help validate this design get in touch with me send me an email or hit me up on Twitter I’m at Mike Morrison so please try it for yourself even if you want to hack it up a little and make it your own no hyegyo’s there are links below to download PowerPoint templates for these designs including example research posters I’m gonna use this design and all my conferences going forward and lots of people here in my ph.
D program are gonna try it out too so try it and please let me know how it goes for you now will retweet any research poster selfies you send me thanks for watching.
Various great research journals such as Global Research Letters are a great option and way to help you look up impactful research papers. Here, you will find a number of various research papers that are provided and made available to you in the journal.
You can very easily find papers on a variety of topics at Global Research Letters, which will help you with your own research work and understanding of writing and publishing research papers properly. With access to so many amazing research papers, you can practice and learn the process of writing research papers and their importance.