AFA Ph.D. Student Poster Session – Guidelines

Overview: If you have never attended a poster session, ask a colleague in the natural sciences (where poster sessions are the most common type of conference session) how they work. You may want to place the paper on your website before you come so you can direct interested folks there (or you can direct them to the paper on the ASSA Conference Mobile app). Plan to include your name, affiliation, and email address on your poster, bring business cards, and be prepared to make a list of interested participants who want more information.

Timing: The AFA poster session will be held all day on Saturday, January 4th from 8:00am-8:30pm in the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego. Please plan to set up your poster fifteen minutes prior to the start of the session and to be present as much as possible at your poster during the breaks between sessions (10:00am-10:15am, 12:15pm-2:30pm, and after 4:30pm). NEW THIS YEAR: please plan to be at your poster after the AFA Presidential Address (approximately 7:00pm on January 4th). The traditional reception that follows the AFA Business Meeting and Presidential Address is being expanded to highlight the Ph.D. Student Poster Session. We anticipate that this will be an ideal time for attendees to view the posters and talk with you about your research. You are also encouraged to use some of the poster session time to visit the other posters in the session.

Printing – Several options are available for printing your poster in San Diego:

  • can print large format posters and is offering a discount for the AFA: Posters printed through for shipping to the conference location can be picked up at the AFA Information Desk in the Manchester Grand Hyatt, Seaport Lobby (2nd level) on Friday, January 3rd between 8am-4:30pm or on Saturday, January 4th starting at 7:30am.
  • FedEx Office has a location in the hotel: Please see their website for details on printing and pickup options.
  • There may be other local printers as well and I encourage you to explore additional options that you may find.

Space: The AFA will provide 8′ X 4′ cork message boards in the lobby for displaying the posters. Presenters will be assigned a designated board. Each presentation will be allocated half of one side (4’ X 4’) of the message board. We will have plenty of push pins available.

Material: Poster printing services will be available for pick up on-site at the conference hotel – additional information will be sent out separately on this option. Other printing services may be available locally near the conference hotels including at various FedEx Office locations. Presenters have had success using either large-format printed posters or a series of smaller printed pages arranged on the board and supplemented with arrows or numbers to help the reader follow the page sequence. Mounted material will be difficult to thumb-tack to the corkboard (let alone transport to the meetings), so it is not recommended. Please be sure to include your name, affiliation, and email address on your poster.

Content: Your poster should be self-explanatory, freeing you from answering obvious questions so that you are available to supplement and discuss particular points of interest. Will a casual observer understand your major findings after a quick perusal of your material? Will a careful reader learn enough to ask informed questions? Ask yourself, “What would I need to know if I were viewing this material for the first time?”

Clarity: Is the sequence of information evident? Indicate the ordering of your material with numbers, letters, or arrows. Put your major points in the poster; save non-essential sidelights for informal discussion or handouts.

* Guidelines based on recommendations developed by the AEA

Below are some general tips from others regarding poster session presentations.


1. What’s the story? You know the purpose of your poster. What do you want the poster to be about? What message do you want viewers to “take home?”

2. Make a content map: start by writing the topic, then 3 sub-topics or key points, and follow that with 3 supporting topics for each of the 3 sub-topics. Decide which of these you really need in order to convey the “take home” message.

3. Show what you did in your project. Use visual representations whenever possible – illustrations, tables, graphs, charts, diagrams, pictures, photos, etc. – to present the ideas. A minimal amount of text material should supplement the graphic materials.

4. Sketch a design for placement and size of elements. Make it as simple as possible. Use diagrams, arrows, and other strategies to direct the attention of the viewer.

5. Use title and visuals to “hook” people; they’ll read the rest if interested.

6. Make the title easy to find and brief.

7. Size of an element (heading, graph, text) should relate to its importance.

8. Balance the elements. Avoid centering everything. Keep in mind the overall picture and the way you want viewers’ eyes to move – the visual flow.

9. Text, lettering, and graphics should be large enough to read at 6 feet. Double-space text. Avoid baroque fonts.

10. Capitals and lowercase lettering are most legible. Chose one font and use it throughout the poster. Add emphasis using boldface, underlining, or color. Italics are difficult to read.

11. Use color selectively (don’t overdo it), and consistently. Let color communicate meaning (ex. green for student data and blue for faculty).

12. Don’t use distracting backgrounds. Avoid busy wallpaper.

13. Posters are summaries, meant to encourage discussion. Use handouts for large amounts of text material. Think prompt, not product.

Think of your poster as a sandwich board on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant. Customers can see the day’s SPECIALS, and if that whets their appetite, they will ask for the menu.

Source: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.


Have you…

– used visuals whenever possible to illustrate ideas?

– presented a single concept with each visual?

– broken down complex visuals into simpler ones?

– chosen visuals because they add information?

– eliminated distracting backgrounds?

– avoided centering every element on the display?

– used graphs to present data?

– used bold, plain fonts for headings?

– avoided using more than two different fonts?

– used italics, bold, underlining, or color for emphasis?

– used capitals and lowercase lettering?

– used the brightest and lightest color to focus attention on important elements?

– used lettering and visuals that contrast with the background color?

– limited the number of colors on the poster?

– made the design as simple as possible?

– made sure your elements appear balanced?

– made it legible? If the audience can’t read it, don’t use it.

– used consistent background color in a series of posters?

Source: Heinich, Molenda & Russell. (1993) Instructional Media. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, p. 85.