Thursday, March 10, 2011

Preparing a Poster for an Academic Conference

I have been a regular contributor to EDUCAUSE online discussions on higher education. I have reviewed some papers for their conferences but never been to one, as they are mostly in the USA.. CCA-EDUCAUSE Australasia 2011 is on 3 to 6 April 2011 in Sydney, so I thought I would go along. It is not so much fun just attending a conference as an ordinary delegate. I left it too late to be a speaker, but put in to do a poster. Many (including my students) would not know what one was, so I thought I would document the steps.

A poster is a short form presentation at an academic conference. The process is much simpler, and often used to introduce new postgraduate students to conferences. Unlike a full refereed paper, the author just submits a short proposals, here is mine for: "International Graduate Level Sustainable ICT Course".

Unlike a full paper, which has to be submitted months beforehand, the author brings the physical poster with them. The poster is usually a paper document (possibly laminated with plastic for strength). Printed on one side of the page in colour. The poster might include a small sample object, or even a computer screen. But usually no power is provided and limited security, so any valuable or breakable object on the poster may be lost, stolen or broken.

The poster is placed on panels in an area of the conference venue, usually for the full period of the conference. There may be a set time when the delegates are encouraged to look at the posters (such as during some drinks). The author will stand next to their poster and give a short talk and answer questions from the delegates. The poster can include contact details fort the author so a delegate can arrange to meet the author. The author can use a computer for a presentation, but will have to prop it up as best they can, with no desk provided. Therefore a hand held tablet computer might be best for a demonstration.

It should be noted that many delegates at conferences, particularly at high tech ones such as CcaEducause-2011, will have a smart phone or tablet computer. If the poster has a web address and a 2 dimensional barcode, this will allow the delicate to obtain a copy of the poser, additional text, a video presentation and submit a question for the author.

Posters vary in size, those for CcaEducause-2011 are up to 750 wide by 1200 mm high. That appears to be a size used for US conferences, whereas international standard paper size A0 ( 841 x 1189 mm) is used in Australia and elsewhere (including for the ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science Poster Day). Curiously, CcaEducause-2011 have specified the posters are to be in portrait mode (that is higher than they are wide), whereas most posters are specified in landscape mode (this may be an error in the specifications).

There may be hundreds of posters at a conference, with less than ideal lighting and positioning. Therefore the graphics used have to be bold and text kept short in a large readable format. Many authors make the mistake of putting the text of a whole paper on the poster. The result is not readable from a comfortable distance. It is better to think of the poster as the slides for a short presentation.

"Advice on designing scientific posters" (Colin Purrington, 2011) provides a good overview of what to put in a poster. This suggests a person should be able to read the poster in at most 10 minutes, equivalent to a 15-minute talk.That sounds like too much content to me. A sample poster is provided by ANU CECS has about 1600 words (22,000 characters), which seems more than desirable.

The conference organiser might provide a template for the conference, or your organisation may do so. CcaEducause-2011 is not supplying a template, but ANU CECS have a LaTeX template (Zip) and a PowerPoint template (PPT). There are also specialist products, such as PosterGenius. Usually the poster will be created as a PDF file and then printed using a large format ink jet printer. When creating the PDF file, it has top be kept in mind that the images will be much larger than on a normal printed page and so need to be at a suitably high resolution.

A typical poster layout will have a header and footer one eighth the height of the page. The title will be at the top centre. The organisation name at the bottom. The main area of the poster will be divided into four equal with columns of fully justified text. Images extend over more than one column. Usually dark text is used on a light background for the main area (sanserif font). Some designs have background images or patterns, but this can make the text hard to read.

An interesting variation on the academic poster is the Quad Chart format, as used for the NSF 2011 SBIR/STTR Phase II Grantee Conference. This divides the page into just four quadrants, each on a specific topic. It is popular for use by US military and government research funding bodies to obtain very brief descriptions of research proposals. The Georgia Institute of Technology Systems Realization Laboratory uses these topics for quad charts:
  1. Motivation & Objectives
  2. Approach
  3. Key Results
  4. Summary & Conclusions
The quad chart is in effect four slides for a very brief pitch presentation.


Tom Worthington said...

The CCA-EDUCAUSE Australasia 2011 organisers have advised that posters are to be in portrait format: " greater than 75cm wide and 120cm high ...", not the more usual landscape format.

Tom Worthington said...

My draft poster "International Graduate Level Sustainable ICT Course" is avialable.