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Creating Academic Posters

All pages in this tutorial

In this tutorial: Resources List > Using these resources | About Academic Posters | Planning | Structuring | Drafting > Word Count > Poster size > Poster Layout > Using text boxes | Design considerations > Templates > Themes > Font size | Refining > Graphics and images > Drawing Objects > Schematic diagrams > Image quality > Using other people's images | Presenting | Printing | Save as PDF | University Crest
All pages in this tutorial | Flow chart of tasks | Skills List


The purpose of an academic poster is to publicise your research, study or investigation to an academic audience.

The poster should be a summary of your research project and it should make a strong impact in order to stimulate discussion. It is therefore worth spending a lot of time in the planning stage when you are gathering information and deciding what to put into your poster in order to make it as attractive as possible for your audience.


The paper used in this tutorial is S Rolland, R Hobson, S McHanwell (2007) 'Clinical competency exercises: some student perceptions' European Journal of Dental Education Volume 11, Issue 3, pages 184-191, and is used with permission from the authors.

Creating a poster: what's involved?

There are several stages that are essential when creating a poster. Not all are discrete sections, separate from the other stages of creating a poster.

Stage 1: Planning

Understanding who your audience is and what they will need and want to know.

Stage 2: Structuring

Deciding upon a structure for the poster that will convey the information logically and clearly.

Stage 3: Drafting

Putting down the key information.

Stage 4: Designing

Adding in colour schemes, font families, and other visual features.

Stage 5: Refining

Adding in sophisticated elements such as images, tables and charts.

Stage 6: Presenting

Printing and University logo.

We are going to look at each of these elements in turn, understand best practice and guidance, how PowerPoint can support you in making good decisions (where appropriate), and what methods you can employ to ensure that you create the best possible poster presentation.

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Planning is crucial

An effective poster can make a strong impact, so it's worth developing your poster planning skills.

Spend some time planning your poster before you start to create it. Consider:

Planning your poster properly at the start will keep you on track and stop you wasting time.

We are going to think about some of the things you should be considering when planning a poster presentation.

You can use MindView to help with this task.

Save the MindView mind map file mindview.mvdx to your H: drive, under a folder called IT Skills (which you may have created in a previous IT skills session) and open it in MindView.

MindView is available through the Start > All Programs > Graphics or EasyAccess menus. It is also available on RAS.



MindView is a concept mapping program similar to Inspiration and MindGenius. It has 6 interchangeable views to develop and design your mind map and comes preloaded with dozens of helpful templates for you to choose from. You can customize the mind map, add images and text, add multimedia content and swap views and styles, you can also export it to any of the Microsoft Office software programs such as Word or Excel and even build an HTML website from the mind map. To view the MindView Quick Start video for guidelines on how to use MindView, go to

Add your ideas to the headings: Script

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What should an academic poster structure look like?

A well presented poster should have a good structure that conveys the message immediately to the reader.

Academic posters should contain the following structural elements:

Make sure that your structure flows in a logical order but remember to choose a structure that best gets the message across.

Decide your structure

Identify the main topics that you want to highlight in your poster.

Now, decide the titles for your poster, based on your answers and the information that you mapped out in the planning stage.

Remember that, since a poster must communicate so concisely, you will need to identify your key points:

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Drafting your poster

Drafting is an important and ultimately time-saving step:

Create a good poster!

How PowerPoint can help

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Word Count

How many words should you put into your academic poster?

The text needs to be between 300 and 500 words.

What does 300 words look like?

To give you an idea, here is an example of a poster that contains 300 words.

300 words
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Reducing the number of words can be difficult, but remember:

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Draft your poster

Having researched your topic well you are now ready to draft your poster.

Start PowerPoint

PowerPoint is the software of choice for drafting posters as it is good for integrating a range of media, producing diagrams and flowcharts easily, and creating custom charts and graphs from your data.

Open PowerPoint from the Start > All Programs > Microsoft Office menu.

Set the slide up

Decide whether you want to keep your poster in Landscape view, or change it to Portrait.

When PowerPoint is unable to automatically scale your content, it will prompt you with two options:

Scaling content


We recommend that you create your poster using A4 size which can then be scaled up for printing. This means you can use standard, familiar font sizes for your work, and minimise the amount of scrolling you have to do whilst working.

Set the slide size to A4.

Slide size

When PowerPoint is unable to automatically scale your content, it will prompt you with two options:

Scaling content

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Poster layout

An academic poster needs to convey a message quickly and efficiently. What do you want the reader to see first?

PowerPoint has a number of built-in layouts for slides but a columnar format is the most appropriate layout to use for posters, as it is much easier for the viewer to read the content in one column before moving on to the next.

Change the layout to a Blank slide. Script

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Using Text Boxes

Insert a text box across the top of the slide and add the Title and format the text to 18pt font.

Specific sections such as the Introduction need to stand out and be easily located on the poster.

Insert a text box for the Introduction and underneath this heading summarise the information from the article.

Add other sections of text to your poster, based on the information from the article and your decisions on audience and emphasis, but leave a space for an image.

Create a good poster!

How to achieve this

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What is good poster design?

An effective academic poster should be well research and effectively organised. It should also be attractively presented.

Now that the basic information of your poster is in place, you can start to think about the design of the presentation.

Create a good poster!

How PowerPoint can help

In order to convey your message clearly, strongly and succinctly, good poster design (Figure 1) should include the following:

Good poster design
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Reference: Eric Couch, Jesse Christophel, Erik Hohlfeld, and Karen Thole, "Cooling Effects of Dirt Purge Holes on the Tips of Gas Turbine Blades" (Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech, April 2003).

What is bad poster design?

A bad poster is one that does not convey the message immediately to the audience. If a reader does not understand immediately the content and purpose of the poster then they will simply walk away.

A bad poster is one that:

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Poster templates

You may wish to consider using one of my templates as the starting point for your poster.

  1. A0 Template (118.9 cm x 84.1 cm) or in landscape.
  2. A1 Template (84.1 cm x 59.4 cm) or in landscape.
  3. A2 Template (59.4 cm x 42.0 cm)
  4. A3 Template (42.0 cm x 29.7 cm)
  5. A4 Templates (21 cm x 29.7 cm):
    1. A4 template 1 or in portrait.
    2. A4 template 2 or in portrait.
    3. A4 template 3 or in portrait.

Alternatively, you may wish to consider using the University's templates to get you started: Master template Opens in a new window. and University logo.

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Create a good presentation!

How PowerPoint can help

Colour Schemes

A good PowerPoint presentation or poster needs to have a consistent visual theme throughout and there are a number of design theme templates provided that you can choose from. However, in order to provide a unique visual experience for your audience, you can customise these design theme templates and tailor them to your needs then save them so that they can be applied to future presentations.

Investigate the themes, colour schemes and font sets, and apply a new theme to all slides in your presentation. Script

There are a range of themes available in PowerPoint 2013.
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Choose a different colour scheme and apply to all slides.

Albert Expert rating 3  Be an EXPERT (level 3) - Creating your own Colour Scheme:

You can customise the colours of your chosen scheme even further by selecting Colors from the Variants drop down list and then choosing Customize Colors.

This opens up the Create New Theme Colors dialog box:

modifying the color of a theme.

Select the colour box for Text/Background - Dark 1 and choose a colour from the display. Choose different colours to suit your preferences.

Be very careful about the colours you choose. Dark blue text on a white or cream background gives a good contrast, whereas red on a green background is harder to read.

Save your customised theme (with colour and font sets), so you can apply it to future presentations.

Albert Expert rating 3  Be an EXPERT (level 3) - Adding a background picture to slides:

As well as colour changes, various other effects can be applied to the overall slide background. Effects that can be added are colour gradients, textures, patterns and pictures. Script
  • To insert a picture as a background, go to the Design tab > Customize group and then select Format Background.
  • Select Picture or texture fill.
  • Under Insert picture from: select File and then locate and double-click the picture that you want to insert.
  • Adjust the picture's transparency by sliding the Transparency bar to the left or right then close the Format Background dialog box to apply to the selected slide only, or Apply to All if the background is to appear on all the slides.

Albert Expert rating 3  Be an EXPERT (level 3) - Apply a theme from an existing presentation to your own presentation:

How to apply a theme from an existing presentation to your own presentation

If you need to use someone else's theme for your presentation, follow these instructions:

  • Open your presentation.
  • Go to the Design tab and select Browse for themes.
  • Browse for the file that contains the theme you wish to import.
  • Select Apply.

Format the text boxes

Using the colour theme that you have now established, format the text boxes to add border and background colour where appropriate.

Format the text box borders by changing the weight and colour.

Now fill the text box with a colour from the theme.

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Font sizes

If using an A4 sized slide, consider using the following font sizes:

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Refining your poster

One of the most powerful ways of getting your information across is by using images, pictures, diagrams and charts. However, only include graphics that really support your content and make sure that they are appropriately captioned and referenced.

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Inserting Graphics

Inserting images into PowerPoint is very simple; select the slide then select Insert > Images > Pictures.

When it comes to manipulating pictures, PowerPoint has some very exciting new features available within the Picture Styles and Adjust groups which can instantly improve the appearance of your image.

Save the image hydrangeas.jpg.

Insert a new slide at the end of your presentation and insert the image hydrangeas.jpg.

Select the picture to display the Format tab.

Adjusting the picture

Experiment with these tools to change the appearance of the image.

Cropping images

You can use the cropping tool to trim and remove unwanted portions of the picture to get just the look that you want. In this example, all the leaves have been removed from the image.

a cropped image

Crop the image to remove all the leaves.

You can also crop an image to fill a shape. In this example, the oval shape has been chosen.

Crop the image to fill a shape.

Screenshot Tool in PowerPoint

You can obtain images simply by using the Screenshot tool within PowerPoint.

There are two ways of doing this:

  1. Inserting a full window screenshot in from the list of available windows.
  2. By selecting the specific area of a window that you want to capture.

You are going to capture Figure 2 in the Dental Article, using method two.

Save the file dentalarticle.pdf to your H: drive (My Documents folder), and open it in Adobe Acrobat.


Open the Dental Article, find the page that contains Figure 2 and capture the image.

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Drawing Objects

The Shapes function allows drawings to be created directly on to a slide. The Drawing Tools and Picture Tools tabs are only displayed when Shapes are inserted from the Insert tab.

Try practising using these shapes and drawing tools to create the following flow diagram.

Insert a new slide at the end of your presentation, change the Slide Layout to a Blank slide and use the Shapes function to draw the following flow diagram.

Now that you have the drawn the flow diagram, try animating the objects.

Open the file diagram.ppsx in Slide Show mode, and try animating the objects in your flow diagram to be the same as in this example.

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The Neuronal Synapse

You may wish to create your own schematic diagram to illustrate your topic, rather than use an image from the internet which may require permission to use.

You should use the best tool for the job: PowerPoint is really good at managing different shapes, objects and layers, and also has other tools that are extremely useful for creating diagrams; Word is not.

Once you have created a schematic diagram, you can use it in PowerPoint as part of a presentation (you could also animate it), or copy it into Word.

Use the tools within PowerPoint to create the following diagram of a neuronal synapse.

Use a range of tools in PowerPoint to create schematic diagrams.

  • To draw shapes, use the Insert tab > Illustrations group > Shapes option.

You can create a custom arrowhead using the Drawing Tools > Format tab > Shape Styles group > Shape Outline > Arrows > More Arrows.

using line tool with different arrowheads

To draw a mid-line arrowhead using line toolstart by drawing an arrow then join a line to it.

Use text boxes to hold text, or add text to shapes (except for lines and connectors): right click over the shape and choose Add text.

To resize shapes:

  • Hold the Shift key down to extend a line along its current plane, or to resize an object retaining its current ratio.
  • Hold the Alt key down to move or resize an object by pixel. Without this, objects will move or resize by a much larger increment.
  • Hold the Ctrl key down to resize an object equally from a central point.
  • Use the Shift, Alt and Ctrl keys in combination with each other to control different effects.
  • Zoom in first if you need more control.

To group shapes:

  • To select a group of adjacent objects, use the mouse (with no drawing object selected) to draw an 'invisible' square over the related objects, then move them using the cursor arrows or the mouse to a new location.
  • Group related objects, or the entire set of chart objects, together. Select them all using Ctrl A, then right click over the edge of one of the selected objects and choose Grouping > Group. Choose Ungroup to undo this.

Use copy and paste: create one object, format it, then copy and paste it as many times as you need it, rather than creating the same object individually and repeatedly.

using copy and paste
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  • Use the Arrange > Position Objects > Align to align the edges of multiple selected objects. You can also centre them or distribute them evenly across the page. Warning: include(../../streaming_videos/include.html): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /export/home/users/projects/itskills/siteroot/pptfiles/usingpowerpoint.html on line 112 Warning: include(): Failed opening '../../streaming_videos/include.html' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/share/php:/usr/share/pear') in /export/home/users/projects/itskills/siteroot/pptfiles/usingpowerpoint.html on line 112

Use the Drawing Tools > Format tab > Edit Shape > Edit Points tool to change the dimensions of a shape by dragging the editing points on the shape. Warning: include(../../streaming_videos/include.html): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /export/home/users/projects/itskills/siteroot/pptfiles/usingpowerpoint.html on line 131 Warning: include(): Failed opening '../../streaming_videos/include.html' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/share/php:/usr/share/pear') in /export/home/users/projects/itskills/siteroot/pptfiles/usingpowerpoint.html on line 131

Use the Merge Shapes tool by selecting the images then go to Drawing Tools > Format > Insert Shapes > Merge Shapes. The tool allows you to merge the selected shapes into one or more new geometric shapes.

Notice the 4 different effects when using the Combine Shapes tools.
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Add the Combine Shapes tool to the toolbar

Shape Union tool

  • Draw your shape and edit it.
  • Copy and paste as many times to repeat it.
  • Hold the Ctrl key whilst selecting each shape, as shown in the Before image.
  • Select the Shape Union tool from the Merge Shapes tool.

The shapes are joined together to make one image which you can then edit, as shown in the After image.



Shape Subtract tool
  • Draw your shapes.
  • Select the drawing objects then press the Shape Subtract tool.



Shape Intersect tool
  • Select the drawing objects then press the Shape Intersect tool.



Shape Combine tool
  • Select the drawing objects then press the Shape Combine tool:



Save your file regularly.

Use Ctrl Z to Undo if you make a mistake.

  1. Draw the axon using a rectangle, oval and circle, then use the Combine tools to merge them.
  2. Draw one dendrite receptor, group the line and the curve together, and then copy and paste it to create multiple receptors.
  3. Draw one neurotransmitter and copy it multiple times. Use the arrows on the keyboard to move them about the diagram.
  4. Create and format one label, and then copy and paste it multiple times.

The Neuronal Synapse

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Images, Pixels and Dots per Inch

Images are made up of pixels (px). On printing, pixels are converted into dots per inch (dpi).

Computer monitors and printers resolve to different densities: some can pack in more pixels or dots per square inch than others. The smaller the pixel or the more densely packed they are, the smaller the image will appear, because the pixels are closer to each other and therefore take up less space.

If an image has more pixels in it than the monitor or printer can display, the extra ones will be ignored.

Once an image has reached its actual size, where one pixel is represented by one pixel, it cannot be increased in size any further, whilst retaining quality. A computer will allow this, but will fill in the gaps between the pixels by blurring, or pixelating, the image.

cropping handles
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The quality of an image is important if the document is being printed at publishing quality (for instance in a magazine or a thesis), or if the image is going to be projected or enlarged (for instance in a presentation or on a poster).

Our guidelines are:

You can change the dpi setting of your image without resizing or changing the resolution of the image.

Change the dpi setting of your image to 300dpi. Press the Ask Albert link to find out how.

Your image DPI has now been set to 300DPI, leaving the pixel dimensions of the image unchanged.

If you know the printed dimensions of your photo, you can go to the Image Size Calculator to do a quick calculation to see if your photo is of sufficient digital resolution.

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Finding an Image

There are many online repositories of free and licenced images. You may need to try a number of approaches before finding a suitable image. However, I recommend using Xpert at Nottingham University. This JISC funded project provides a growing database of open learning resources for sharing and re-use.

  1. Xpert Opens in a new window. Use the Attribute images link to find images only.
  2. Google Images Opens in a new window.. Be aware that just because you can get to these images for free, doesn't mean that they are free to use.
  3. Creative Commons search Opens in a new window..

Using other people's images

Take care when using other people's images:

See the Images resources Opens in a new window. which cover this in more detail.

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Preparing your poster for presenting

Proof-read and check

Make sure your poster is error-free, by carefully spell- and grammar-checking your work.

Check the layout of your poster.

Do your eyes bounce around randomly, or do they move smoothly and logically around your poster?

Assessment of poster presentations

At university, you will often find that one of your course assessments requires you to produce a poster, either individually or in a group.

Check the marking guidelines for your particular discipline to find out how your own poster will be assessed.

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Printing your poster

You may need to produce your poster to a certain size. For example, if you need to print to A1 size, go to Newcastle University Library's print services Print Services Opens in a new window. for more information on how to prepare your poster for this size printing.

Converting your poster to a PDF

Microsoft PowerPoint 2013 allows you to save your powerpoint slide as a PDF very quickly. To do this: | Follow us on Twitter @FMS_IT_Skills@FMS_IT_Skills | Fell cluster Wed 2-4pm

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