During the last few days, I was revising a scientific poster which included the description of a complex workflow. The challenge was to “translate” a detailed textual description into a visually appealing layout without losing too much detail. The poster was done in MS-PowerPoint and the graphic was developed in Adobe Photoshop Extended CS5. I went through several iterations with the help of the first author, Dr. Tanja Bekhuis, Quantitative Psychologist, Writer and Information Specialist who works as postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pittsburgh, Department of Biomedical Informatics. Please see Figure 1, the original poster with textual representation of the workflow. Figure 2 shows the revised poster and Figure 3 allows you to see the workflow graphic in detail. The poster was presented at the AMIA Annual Symposium 2010 in Washington DC.
Figure 1: Original Version
Figure 2: Final Version
Figure 3: Workflow graphic (click on thumbnail to see full-size version)
Full title and authors: Using the Natural Language Toolkit to Reduce the Number of Messages for In-depth Content Analyses: A Case Study Tanja Bekhuis(1), Marcos Kreinacke(2), Heiko Spallek(1), Mei Song(1); 1:Center for Dental Informatics, School of Dental Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, PA, USA; 2: Leibniz University of Hannover, Germany
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Yesterday, I was preparing a poster for the “2010 CTSA Informatics Key Function Committee All-Hands Meeting” held at the Natcher Auditorium, NIH campus in Bethesda, MD on October 13-14, 2010. We will showcase some usage data of Digital Vita, an application developed by the University of Pittsburgh, which integrates CV management functions with academic social networking and basic research team management and collaboration functions. Initially, the graphs were created using basic functions in Microsoft Excel (see example in Figure 1):
Figure 1: NIH Biosketches in DV - MS Excel
I have converted these graphs into Photoshop, replacing the non-data-bearing frame with a y-axis indicating the range and changing the graph type to reflect that we combine cumulative data and non-cumulative data in one chart. In addition, I have labeled the data directly instead of using a legend reducing the cognitive load
for the viewer. I first made a screen shot of the Excel graph and imported it into Photoshop, then I used the vector graph shape tools to draw the chart allowing me to scale it without quality loss. I ended up creating several 700 pixel high JPEGs which I inserted into a Microsoft PowerPoint poster template used by our Department of Biomedical Informatics
(see example in Figure 2).
Figure 2: NIH Biosketches in DV -- Adobe Photoshop
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Frequently, I receive questions about designing posters. Over the years, I have come to notice that there are some peculiar myths about poster design which I have summarized below: Myth 1. Poster size should dovetail with instructions for poster authors. Not true. Often organizers convey the poster frame information to the presenters instead of the actual size of the poster board. This means that the margins of your poster are not on the poster board, but on the board’s frame, which usually cannot be used for attaching push pins. Thus, always make your poster two inches smaller than the advertised size to avoid curled-up edges. Remember, your poster will curl because you transport it rolled up in a tube. Myth 2. The organizer provides material for attaching the poster to the board. Probably true if announced that way, but bring your own clear plastic push pins. While it might look cute to have 10 push pins each in a different color, this superfluous post-production color decoration detracts from your carefully designed poster that only uses color to communicate specific details. Myth 3. Glossy paper can display the most vibrant colors. True, but only for professionally mounted high-gloss images in an art gallery under perfect lighting conditions. Posters are far from perfectly mounted and overhead fluorescence tubes in convention centers are not ideal lighting. Use satin or luster paper instead to avoid the unwanted reflections of glossy paper. Myth 4. Use the name of your study for the poster title This applies to papers but not to posters. With only a few seconds to interest the casual poster visitor, go for the attention grabber and use the conclusion of the investigation as your poster title. Myth 5. Use all the space available on your poster. OK, you want to use the entire available space appropriately, but pay attention to two things: First, do not create text lines the width of your 8-foot-wide poster. Lines of text should contain about 10 to 12 words. Second, leave enough white space between elements and around the margins. White space, which doesn’t actually have to be white just free of anything but the background color, provides separation between image elements and avoids the feeling of a jumbled design. Myth 6. You can import MS-Excel tables and other elements into your design programs. Sure, you can do this, but it is not uncommon for design software to mistranslate symbols when importing data from other file formats. Your table might look fine on first glance but the percent signs or Greek letters for statistical variables may be converted to little rectangles. Myth 7. Viewers can get your contact information from the poster header or the conference program. Yes, they can, but will they actually do it? Don’t rely on their willingness to track you down, instead have a stack of 8” x 10” reductions of your poster handy (black and white is fine). These may be difficult to read but the viewer will remember the look of your poster. On the back side, include your poster abstract as well as detailed contact information and, if available, a Website address for the project.
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Our need to communicate and disseminate research results has long outstripped the capacity of scientific sessions, which cannot be prolonged indefinitely due to the time constraints inherent in professional conferences. Thus, posters evolved into the third leg of the scholarly publication tripod (posters, abstracts, published papers). It is estimated that annually more than 500,000 scientific posters are presented worldwide.
In many academic disciplines, posters are relegated to second class citizens with diminished value compared to the esteemed paper submission. This lower status is often reflected in less comprehensive submission guidelines, later deadlines, and more lenient review criteria. Scientific posters allow you to make public your early work while full paper submissions require a completed evaluation and final results to pass the peer-review process. The American Medical Informatics Association’s Annual Symposium describes posters as “preferred format for presenting preliminary research results or results of small scale studies, illustrating and discussing innovative systems and services, describing experimental and in-practice projects,” which can be submitted with a one-page proposal, whereas paper submissions require a five-page proposal.
Scientific posters are also an excellent communication vehicle for obtaining feedback and valuable input from peers. A good poster will stimulate conversation between you and conference participants. After the poster presentation, you have an opportunity to assess the feedback, reevaluate your study, and tweak its design or research method. But these poster benefits are only possible if your poster does its job well: to pique an interest that results in someone reading about and discussing your research. Get the booklet Poster Presentations! Learn how to use Photoshop to create attention-grabbing posters that not only look compelling but tell your data story effortlessly. You’ll save money and time by submitting camera-perfect posters to your digital printing service.
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