Designing Poster For Humanities And Social Sciences

two students stand in front of large research poster

What is the purpose of a research poster?

  • Allows you to present results clearly and efficiently
  • Facilitates conversations with conference visitors interested in your research
  • Serves as a stand-in so people can learn about your work when you’re not present
  • Gives you practice in concisely summarizing complex topics and public speaking

How do you format a research poster?

STEM disciplines traditionally follow IMRaDformat (Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion), but this doesn’t always apply to humanities research.

Formats that work for humanities:

  • Modified IMRaD: Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Conclusions
  • Thematic: Group sections of your poster according to sub-themes
  • Narrative: Tell a story about your topic; particularly useful for a specific event (i.e. World War II)
  • Questions and Answers: Summarize your main research questions and how you answered them


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Q and A poster example
Q & A Poster
Sample of a history poster using questions and answers format, University of Oxford, The Oxford Research Center in the Humanities, Poster Competition Trinity 2014
narrative poster example
Narrative poster example
Sample of a history poster using narrative format, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
example of theme poster
Thematic poster example
Sample of a Linguistics poster using thematic format.
Institute for Humanities Research, 2013 Humanities Undergraduate Research Award Presentations

Software for Poster Design

Microsoft PowerPoint and Publisher are popular and available for free to UMD students through Terpware.

Apache Open Office Draw is a free downloadable program particularly helpful for making diagrams.

There are many free poster templates online. However, most of these are done in the IMRaDformat and may need to be modified for your research.

Poster sizing and orientation

  • Most conferences will have a set size and orientation for posters
  • For Undergraduate Research Day, dimensions should be 36 x 48 inches (3 x 4 feet) and can be portrait or landscape
  • It is easy to adjust slide size in Power Point. Go to Design> Slide Size> Custom Slide Size

Layout for poster

  • Arrange content from left to right, top to bottom
  • Place logo, title of project, and your name at top
  • Font size should be large and readable from far away
  • Text used in main body of poster should not exceed 800 words
  • Avoid long, unbroken expanses of text; use phrases and bullet points
  • Left-align your text blocks; justified text leaves awkward gaps
  • Set a thin black border (1-2pt) around images; include captions
  • Whenever possible, align your text boxes and images
  • Leave space for works cited and acknowledgments at bottom
  • Include your full name and contact information

Formatting Postersmodge podge of letters in different fonts

Keep style elements consistent

Font and font size:

Avoid exotic fonts like Comic Sans

Use no more than two font faces—don’t let your poster look like a ransom note!

Sans-serif font for headings (Arial, Helvetica, etc.)

Serif fonts for text (more readable) are Times New Roman, Palatino

Poster needs to be legible from 4 to 6 feet away

  • Headings 36-54 pt.
  • Text 24-36 pt.
  • Captions and data labels on charts and graphs 18-20pt


  • Avoid dark or patterned backgrounds, as these waste ink and are hard to read
  • Avoid red text on green or vice versa. Those with color blindness can’t read it
  • Use only 2-3 colors for your background and text boxes

Finding Images for Posters

word free written in chalk

When possible, use images in the public domain, without copyright restrictions, or where you own the copyright

Copyright Law allows some “fair use” of copyrighted works for educational purposes

Images of art, architecture, and historical artifacts are available for free through databases like ArtStor (available via UMD Libraries Research Port with UMD login) and websites of museums including:

Technical tips

Ideally, images that are printed should have at least 300 dpi (dots-per-inch) resolution

Find/scan the highest resolution image possible. When scanning, save image in TIFF format

Use Adobe Photoshop (PC) or Photos (Mac) to adjust resolution, resize, and crop images

To screenshot webpages:

  • PC: Hit CTRL + PRINT SCREEN buttons simultaneously, then paste the photo into a graphics editor (Photoshop or MS Paint)
  • Mac: Hit Shift + Command + 4, then drag the crosshair to select the area you want for your image. Release and you will find the image as a .png file on your desktop

Check to make sure that image does not become “pixelated” when enlarged

Saving and Exporting

Look at your poster at 100% resolution to make sure there is no pixilation of images. In PPT, go to View> Zoom> 100%

Be sure to spell-check your poster and have someone else proof itEmbed your fonts in the file: go to File> Options> Save> Embed fonts in the file

Save your project as a PDF (Portable Document Format) for printing—this will preserve your layout

Save for maximum print resolution (not web resolution)


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