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How to effectively incorporate citations into your scientific poster

Vector graphic of a dull scientific poster showing (author, date) in text citations, and 8 long form references, compared with an identical sparkly, bright scientific poster with footnotes and 4 short form references.

Imagine this: You're fervently collating your latest research into a visually compelling scientific poster. You’ve written your attention-grabbing title, picked a cohesive colour scheme, and planned a logical layout for your content. ✨

Suddenly, you encounter a problem — what do you do about citations and references? 🤔

You have so many “essential” papers, your poster is sure to look cluttered. So, should you include them?

It’s a divisive subject! A recent poll we conducted on LinkedIn revealed a striking split among our audience: 60% believed yes, posters should have references, while the other 40% thought no.

Graphic of a poll surveying 73 individuals from LinkedIn asking if research posters should include references. The result: 60% said yes, and 40% said no.

We believe references and citations on scientific posters are optional, not mandatory! But if you choose to include them, we have 3 simple tips to create a clean, reader-friendly and award-winning design. 🔬

The problem with citations and references

We understand that references can demonstrate credibility and integrity, and provide a thread for those interested to pull at for additional information.

However, it's also true that they can turn your poster into a hot mess if not handled properly. 🫣

A GIF of a woman saying "Hot mess"

They can:

  • Disrupt the flow of text. 📝

  • Fragment your sentences. 💔

  • Clutter your poster reducing negative space. 🫨

  • Decrease readability. 😵‍💫

  • And reduce visual appeal. 🙅🏽‍♀️

The challenge of including citations without compromising readability and aesthetics is real. AND we get it! Formatting citations and references can be a nightmare at the best of times!

Spongebob and Patrick getting smashing a computer in frustration GIF
Formatting references, got me like!

And this task only becomes that much harder when you apply it to a scientific poster, with limited space.

Tip 1: Choose your in-text citation style wisely

Unlike a journal article, the referencing style for a scientific conference poster is often not dictated. So the choice is up to you!

And what a difference it can make. Let's take a look.👇

Avoid (author, date) in-text citation styles for a scientific poster.

While (author, date) citation styles are common, they can easily clutter and disrupt the smooth flow of text on your scientific poster!

Some common styles are:

  • APA (American Psychological Association)

  • Harvard referencing

  • MLA (Modern Language Association)

  • And the list goes on.

In text citation example of scientific text with (author, date) citations.

Don’t get us wrong, these styles certainly have their place. In fact, they are often required for journal submissions and University assessments. But here is the problem, they take up too much space! So we recommend you steer clear of all (author, date) in-text citation styles for scientific posters.

Use footnotes, endnotes or a numbered citation style instead!

Just like a well-placed puzzle piece 🧩 footnotes, endnotes and numbered citations seamlessly integrate into the text, offering the necessary source information without overloading the text. ✨

So, what’s the difference between a footnote, endnote and numbered citation, you ask?

Well when it comes to a scientific poster a footnote and an endnote are indistinguishable. A footnote appears at the bottom of the page containing the sentence to which it refers. Whilst endnotes are lists at the end of the document, similar to a reference list or bibliography.

Graphic of 2 pages demonstrating footnotes at the end of each page, and another 2 pages showing endnotes at the end of the document.

Since a scientific poster is only one page, both terms can be used interchangeably.

A numbered citation style, such as Vancouver referencing, has the same principle. And can either be written in line with the text within rounded brackets (1) or using superscript¹.

As you can see, that small little superscript number does not overwhelm the sentence, drastically increase the amount of text or clutter the poster. However it does still provide appropriate recognition to previous work and give both you and the reader essential sources to refer to, if needed.

In text citation example of scientific text with footnotes.

We recommend to use footnotes, endnotes or a numbered citation style, for your scientific poster.

Tip 2: Use only 3-4 essential references

This may be the most important tip! We recommend limiting the number of references to a maximum of 3 to 4, focusing on the most impactful and relevant sources to your research. 🔬

There are two main ways to do this:

  1. Reduce the amount of content on your poster! ✅ Distil your introduction, methods and conclusion down to the core points and avoid introducing too many new concepts. This makes your poster more accessible and automatically decreases the number of references required. Talk about win win!

  2. Reduce the number of references per finding! ✅ In contrast to a manuscript or a literature review, where you cite every single paper that has came to the same conclusion, instead just cite the first original paper, or the most impactful to your work. This will limit the number of necessary citations and references.

In text citation example of scientific text with footnotes and reduced number of citations.

Tip 3: Format your reference list to be as concise as possible

Unfortunately, your reference list can get long—wayy too long—taking up valuable real estate on your poster if you are not careful. 🙃

GIF of woman saying "Too long, too long."

Here are our top tips to minimise your reference list:

  1. Reduce the number of references We said it before, and we’ll say it again! Limit yourself to 3 or 4 necessary references. This will, as you guessed, give you more space in your reference list.

  2. Keep text small As long as it’s readable the text of your reference list can be smaller than your body text, if needed.

  3. Stick to the essentials Format your references to be as concise as possible and include only the necessary information, such as:

    • ✍🏻 First author

    • 🗓️ Year

    • 📗 Journal details

Image of long form reference with all source details, compared with a shortened reference including only the essential source information.

So, there you have it! Creating a clean, clutter-free poster with appropriate citations is entirely achievable. 🙌 The key lies in selecting the right style to seamlessly incorporate them into your scientific poster, reserving citations for only the absolutely essential references and formatting your reference list to be super-duper concise.

Still feel like you want some extra help?

We’ve only just scratched the surface on what makes a clean and clutter-free poster!

Here at Animate Your Science, we’ve developed a whole online course: How to Design an Award-Winning Scientific Poster to take you through the key design principles of designing a poster. With nothing but positive reviews from academics all over the world, we think you will love our award-winning formula too.

You can go at your own pace, with only 3 hours of learning across 33 video lessons, you can arm yourself with the skills and knowledge to create your own captivating scientific posters. As a bonus, we also include 8 templates & downloads for you! 🤩

Learn more about our online scientific poster here or contact our team today to maximise your research poster’s impact. ✨

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