Your scientific poster communicates your findings to fellow doctors and researchers, but it also says a lot about you. So, what do a mishmash of colors, shoe horned paragraphs of text, and complicated figures say? We’ll leave that to your imagination.

Fortunately, there are few basic principles of communication and design that can keep you on the straight and narrow.

Start with your headline that encapsulates or teases your study. Use your key findings or results. And keep in mind, we read English left to right, and top to bottom. So get attention, making your headline or title the largest copy on the poster.

Make headlines big (70 points plus), so they’re readable from a six-foot distance

Place your headline at the top of the poster. Make it short, 15-20 words, and bold. Then guide the reader through successive points starting at the left. Use subheads to quickly guide your colleagues through the presentation.

Color also helps communicate what’s important, but only use two colors. Black for text.

And anything non-psychedelic for title and subheads, or callouts like this.

Layout secrets

Divide your board into three. For quick organization, place elements in one column or multiples. For example, the headline might span all three columns, while your figures might end up in one.

Fast reads are good reads

Poster copy and web slides are not read from beginning to end. They’re scanned, so your headline and subheads, should tell the story.

Distill your copy into bullet points, like these about font guidelines

  • Use one font for everything to keep it simple
  • Helvetica, Arial and Verdana are all clean, familiar and easy to read
  • Set any copy you expect people to read in no less than 18 points

Picture, Thousand Words, etc.

Do you have a great photo that’s relevant to your message? Use it BIG. Not so great pics can be used smaller or pitched.

How to get that uncramped feeling

Use white space

White space is an eyeball magnet that draws attention and makes your slide easier to consume. Use it liberally around headlines, subs, and figures. Slather it on, so it’s easily 30 percent of your white space.

About those figures

  • With an orderly background, your figures will pop.
  • Use darker, high contrast colors
  • Reduce the number of labeled data points
  • Make sure that graph lines and chart boxes are heavy enough to read from a distance

Make your conclusion or summary easy to spot

  • Wordsmith copy to be as concise as possible
  • Consider a device like a color block, or larger type to call it out
  • For posters, keep it well above waist level

Try out these tips on your next poster. You may not win any design awards, but you will communicate. And that’s what matters.