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Getting Graphic! Making an Effective Poster

Jane Eva Baxter

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Why Do a Poster?

As the discipline of archaeology continues to grow, so does the amount of information that archaeologists wish to disseminate to their peers. Most conferences now strongly encourage posters as a creative and effective format capable of reaching a wide audience, and poster sessions are becoming an attractive alternative to the traditional paper format. Posters provide a visual message that allow individuals to view material at their own pace, while the more informal setting allows people to view posters alone or to engage in discussions of the material with the presenter and other viewers. In essence, posters allow viewers to quickly get an overview of your research.

What the Experts Say

An effective poster combines many important elements to both attract viewers and clearly convey information. There are two main components to any poster: text and graphics. Diane Matthews (1990, The Scientific Poster: Guidelines for Effective Visual Communication, Technical Communication, Third Quarter) presents a variety of considerations in her how-to article that help to make each of these components work effectively. The following are excerpts from the wealth of information contained in this and other similar articles -- it is worth the time to check them out!

First, most conferences issue instructions or guidelines for posters that set the limits for poster size. Text and graphics must fit the specific format of the conference.

People tend to spend only minutes at each individual poster, making it essential to create text and graphics that are easily digestible in a short period of time. For text, it is important to condense arguments to their key points and to group ideas in "chunked" sections. Lists make a great alternative to the paragraph format! Posters, like papers, should follow the "IMRAD" format: Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion. Present text using readable fonts and consistent typographic style.

Graphics are extremely important to the success of a poster. A sloppy poster will convey a message of sloppy research, so great care should be placed on presentation. Make certain that your poster layout is balanced and will lead the reader to follow information in a logical format. Do not distract your reader with too many colors; choose a color scheme and carry it through. Make all visual aspects of the poster large enough to view. Most people will view a poster from two to four feet away, so large fonts, enlarged photos, simple graphs, and clear charts will enhance readability.

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Tips from a SAA Student Poster Award Winner

Alanah Woody, currently a doctoral student at the University of Southampton, won the SAA Student Poster Award in 1994. More recently she helped coordinate the Sundance Poster Symposium for the 1996 SAA Annual Meeting. Alanah has the following advice and information about preparing an outstanding poster session:

What SAA Judges Look for in a Winning Poster

Advice from the viewer's perspective comes from David Anderson, program chair for the upcoming SAA Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn. He also has been a judge for poster sessions at previous SAA meetings. Judges look for the following things to determine the quality of a poster:

The SAA judges do not know whether a poster was made by a student or professional at the time of judging. Sometimes a student poster may receive the overall highest score!

Recycle Your Poster

What should you do with your poster when the meeting is over? Why not donate it to a museum? Many small town, county, and other local museums have very limited budgets for creating new exhibits. Most curators would welcome the opportunity to have a professional exhibit on display in their museum, and it helps promote archaeology to the public as well!

For Further Reading

Two articles that describe how to make an effective scientific poster and provide extremely valuable advice are:

Connor, Carol Waite
1988 The Poster Session: A Guide for Preparation. USGS Open File Report 88-667. U.S. Geological Survey. Washington, D.C.

Matthews, Diane
1990 The Scientific Poster: Guidelines for Effective Visual Communication, Technical Communication, Third Quarter.

Jane Eva Baxter is a member of the Student Affairs Committee.

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