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Research Fair success: Presentation Boards/Posters

Tips and tricks for making the most of your Research Fair presentation

The Research Fair is a science-fair-style event, often called a "poster session" at large conferences.  In that format, presenters use a large poster to display information, and then stand at a table or easel with that poster to speak with event guests who want to know more about the presenter's research.

Musselman Library provides a three-panel display board upon which Research Fair attendees may design a visual display or attach a poster.  These are not required for Research Fair presentations, but they are strongly recommended.  This page explains why they're a good idea, and what you can do to create a successful poster or display board.

A Good Idea Because...

A poster or display board is a good idea for the Research Fair because it:

  • Serves as a good physical backdrop for your presentation
  • Provides an easy way to display photographs, charts, or graphs related to your presentation
  • Complements a laptop-based presentation, or any other props you might use
  • Attracts visitors to your project (A board or poster with your presentation title displayed prominently in a big, clear font is a great way to catch the eye of people browsing the fair)
  • Reminds you of your talking points [Displaying your research question and key findings, or highlights from your experience, or basics of your creative process – any of this – can be good reminders you can see with a quick glance]

The library, with help from the Learning Resource Center, regularly hosts poster creation workshops in the weeks prior to any year's Research Fair.  Watch for an announcement about workshop dates and times.

Sharing an Experience or Internship?

If your presentation relates to an internship, pre-professional experience, or other kind of experiential learning, here are some additional ideas:

  • Make connections between your experience and the coursework that prepared you for it
  • Include reflections on the experience -- your own, those of clients, and/or those of supervisors
  • Use a quote from these reflections and enlarge it as a visual component for your poster
  • Include photographs from your experience
  • Offer advice to others who might want to pursue something similar

Purpose and Audience

PURPOSE:  Your poster presentation board is meant to help convey the topic, key points, and takeaways from your project.  It should stand on its own, but it should also serve as a conversation starter. Think of it like a movie trailer – post just enough there to get your audience interested in hearing more from you!

AUDIENCE:  Your audience will consist of fellow students, faculty, staff, and community members.  Use language they’ll all understand, and avoid acronyms and abbreviations.

TAKEAWAYS:  What three ideas should your guests take away from your presentation?  Include these takeaways in your board design.

Words, words, words...


  • Use a computer and a program like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or PowerPoint to create and print your board’s text
  • Use three fonts or fewer (try Calibri, Ariel, Times New Roman)  
  • Avoid hand-writing your content  
  • Make sure everything on your board is readable from 4-6 feet away (headings = 30-60pt font; regular text = 24pt)
  • Left-justify larger chunks of text
  • Aim for 300-800 words total on your poster
  • Avoid acronyms and jargon which may be unfamiliar to your audience


  • Every board needs a title - 5 to 10 words long
  • Place the title of your project across the top center of your board
  • Make sure the title is clearly readable from 10 feet away


  • Keep your color scheme simple
  • Dark letters on light background is ideal
  • A plain white background is best; color backgrounds are more informal
  • Be mindful of the possibility of colorblind visitors

Design and Layout


  • Use the center panel of the board to convey the most important information.
  • Use the left and right wings for supporting/additional information. 
  • Place the most important information at eye level height when your board is placed on a table.
  • Blank space is important - don't overcrowd your board. 
  • Consider numbering your images or panels to help a visitor understand your layout.


  • Do incorporate a few crisp photographs if they support your project.
  • Do use simple charts and graphs and include basic descriptions so visitors can understand your data.
  • Avoid complex tables; they're hard to understand at a glance.

COLLABORATORS:  Be sure to include the names of all collaborators to a group project poster.

CITATIONS:  Include a list of references for any information you cite on your poster.


  • Test a dry layout first.
  • Have at least one other person look over your poster's layout before you attach permanently. 
  • Use double-sided tape or glue stick to attach printouts to your board. (Glue sticks are usually available for sale in the bookstore.  You can also use the supply available in the Curriculum Resource Center on the library's 4th floor)

Campus Resources for Poster Creation

Musselman Library's Curriculum Resource Center stocks construction paper and bulletin board paper in many colors, available for purchase for a small fee.  Scissors, tape, glue sticks, and Ellison stencil dies are kept in the production area and can be used anytime the library is open.

Bluffton's Writing Center and Learning Resource Center can assist you with reviewing the text or layout of your poster.

The Pi Delta Research Grant Program can be a potential funding source for students who wish to design and professionally print a large-format poster.  Application instructions are at the grant program website.

For more ideas...

This video tutorial from American Journal Experts is written for scientific posters but has great ideas for any poster designer:

Video tutorial from American Journal Experts (YouTube)


Sources for additional poster design information:

Effective Poster Design (University of Guelph Teaching Support Services)

Designing a Research Poster (Dartmouth College Undergraduate Advising and Research)

Designing Research Posters (Purdue University Online Writing Lab Workshop handout)


See photos from past Research Fair presentations here (scroll to bottom):