How to Design a Research Poster

Presenting your scholarly work and research can take a number of different formats, all of which have pros and cons associated with them. While some fields use live performances or oral presentations to display their work, other use research journals or written manuscripts, while others still implement the use of research posters or gallery displays. Below is a comparison of some of the more common methods for displaying and presenting research and scholarly work.

Oral Presentations/Live Performances Written Manuscript Poster/Gallery Display
Done once, and then complete May require months/years to be published Engage individual audience members at their level of knowledge, understanding and/or interest
Typically, very current information Can provide very detailed information Does not need to be linear
Linear style and format (usually) Archived/accessible for a long period of time Immediate, direct feedback and discussion
Maybe one-way conversation/limited feedback Reader can go back over (and over) your work May be more current than a manuscript
Audiences have varying levels of knowledge and/or interest No direct feedback from wider audience Can be very visual
Can be difficult to present clearly Do not need presentation/display space Limited amount of space and detail provided


How do I create an effective research poster?

Step 1: Think about your work and how you want to present it.

Step 2: Determine your preferred layout for the poster and organize your work to fit.

Step 3: Think about and add visual components.

Step 4: Identify the most appropriate title (and authors) for your poster.


Step 1: Think about your work and how you want to present it.

Consider the following questions before designing your poster. You may have multiple posters for different forums, conferences, and events depending on the audience you are presenting to. Take time to brainstorm what you want the viewer to get from your poster (whether you are standing by it to present the information or not).

  • What is your goal?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the most interesting/compelling part of your work?
  • What will be interesting to others?
  • How can you make it interesting to others?

Step 2: Determine your preferred layout and organization for the poster.

  • Format is typically top to bottom, left to right
  • Content:
    • Abstract, if appropriate
    • Background/Introduction
    • Research Question/Problem/Hypothesis
    • Methodology (Materials & Methods)
    • Data
    • Conclusions, Future Studies
    • Acknowledgements
  • Make it easy for the reader to follow
  • Anchor your information with something familiar
  • Label figures and images
  • Use sections, headlines
  • Appropriately use color – pay attention to contrasts, text, and potential distracting use of color

Step 3: Think about (and add!) visual components.

  • What can be visual about your work?
  • What needs to be explained?
  • What context do you need to provide?
  • Visual components that can be included:
    • Biography/influences on your authors
    • Lists, timelines
    • Key quotations/text
    • Cultural context
    • Graphs, charts
    • Maps
    • Photos
    • Illustrations
  • Resist temptation to overuse color
  • Use color for meaning and significance
  • Use color to highlight important content
  • Consider color for
    • Background
    • Frames around poster components
    • Bullet points
    • Headlines of text, headings

Step 4: Identify the appropriate heading for your poster.

  • Determine title that is understandable to an audience outside of your field/major
  • List authors of poster
  • Consider font type, size, color, etc.
  • Include the MU logo (and other logos depending on the nature of your work)


This short 5-minute video takes you through some pointers on how to create a research poster. The Office of Undergraduate Research has formed a partnership with FedEx Kinko’s to provide MU undergraduate researchers a discounted University rate on large-format poster printing. For a coupon, stop by the Office of Undergraduate Research 150 Life Sciences Center.