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How to write engaging headings to make your scientific poster pop!

Vector graphic showing a well-designed poster coming out of a laptop, with headings noting what should go here.

We’ve seen it all before. Most scientific posters you’ve seen at conferences typically have these very same subheadings:

  • Introduction.

  • Methods.

  • Results.

  • Aaaaand conclusion.

Yawn GIF
A bit boring, wouldn’t you say?

Whilst, we can all agree that they’re great at guiding readers to different sections on a poster, they don't exactly scream, "READ ME!" to your audience. 😧

So while these aren’t bad headings per sé, wouldn’t it be BRILLIANT if more academics wrote engaging, informative section headings that provide immediate context about their research?

Let's rethink, and restructure our scientific posters accordingly.

1. Write a catchy title that hooks those truly interested.

It’s great to have a target audience who cares deeply about your work and, even better, a title that reels them in. But let's face it, not every single delegate at a scientific conference will be interested in your work.

A GIF of Steve Carell saying WHAT?

Yep, you read that right!

With limited time at the poster session, no one will have a chance to see every single poster. Both you and the other attendees are looking to connect with the right people.

So let’s cut to the chase…

To attract those who really care, offer your audience a crystal-clear snapshot of your research from the get go.

How you ask? By crafting an ✨ informative title. ✨

We’ve already written an excellent blog on how to craft an attention-grabbing title for a scientific poster. You can bookmark it here and read it later. The gist is….

📝  You should write your title as a:

  1. Succinct summary of your major finding(s).

  2. An intriguing question.

  3. An engaging analogy for a complex concept.

Using an informative title helps conference attendees quickly and effortlessly gauge if your poster is for them, maximising meaningful connections! 😉

🌟 PRO TIP: Use a large eye-catching graphic, and a thematic colour scheme to make your research topic even clearer to delegates!

2. Write section headings that provide an informative overview.

Attending a conference is like information-overload; presentations, workshops, networking, scientific posters… my oh my! 🙈

Attendees have limited bandwidth! To maximise your chances of making an impact, you need to make your information as digestible—and memorable—as possible.

This is where your section headings come in!

So, say goodbye to the stale 'Introduction' and say hello to new ways to give an enticing sneak peek into your research. For instance, consider these 4 alternative headings for a single section on a research poster that’s about apples:

An infographic with 4 panels showing more and more detailed apples on the right paired with more informative headings on the left.
The many faces of the ‘Introduction’. Which one grabs your attention the most?

1️⃣ The first is our generic, uninformative ‘Introduction’.

2️⃣ The next ‘Granny Smith Apples’ tells you that this poster is about, well, apples. But not much more than the overarching title.

3️⃣ The third option gives a more detailed preview into what they’re specifically exploring about apples in this section.

4️⃣ And the last one, is a fun and bold approach, designed to hook a lay audience.

So which is the best? 🤔

To be honest, they are all better than the generic “Introduction”, but the best one might depend on your audience. We have a whole blog on how to engage your target audience correctly here.

Overall there are a couple of Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to writing your section headings.

Do and Don't graphic for creating a good section heading.

Follow this format for all section headings and you’ll craft a poster that provides your audience with an efficient overview of your work's core—without them having to delve into the finer details.

Just have a look at this before and after example!! This way, your audience walks away with a brief overview of your work and an appreciation of the bigger picture.

Before and after graphic of a poster using the usual 'Introduction', 'Methods' etc headings, while the after showcases more unique and informative headings.

3. Write headings which pique curiosity and leave a cookie crumb trail…

In addition to providing a concise overview of your work, your headings should leave the reader wanting more. Once you have grabbed the attention of your audience you can delve into the finer details.

This is where your body text comes in!

Within the body text you can unravel the complexities of your research, offering rationale and more context. But this is not an invitation to waffle on about every microscopic detail. 🫣 The art of writing lies in being succinct.

A quote from Little Prince stating "Perfection is not when there is no more to add, but when there is no more to subtract."

Here is the low down on writing your body text:

  • Be concise Your body text should be around 250 words. 😧 Yes that short! Similar to what you would have in a written abstract. This means that using informative headings that provide context are pivotal.

  • Use dot points Bullet points or numbered lists make content more digestible, add negative space and force us to be succinct in our writing.

  • Use visuals Where possible, use visuals to replace text. Diagrams, charts, or images can convey complex information more effectively and quickly than text alone. For example, your methods section is a great spot to use a flow diagram or a visual representation of your workflow.

Before and After graphic showing methodology written out as bulk text, compared with using a succinct flow diagram.

  • Highlight key takeaways Make your main results stand out. These should be the most eye-catching part of your body text, or even better incorporated into your heading. You can use a larger font, a bold typeface, a box or a different colour to highlight them.

  • Use additional subheadings In a blog dedicated to headings, it would be amiss if we didn't advocate the use of more subheadings. 😂 Use them to break down information into digestible chunks.

💡 Remember: Your poster can be viewed by conference attendees even in your absence. So, ensure your poster is logical and comprehensible whether you're there to talk them through it or they're exploring it independently.

Your headings and body text allow you to do just that, providing the whole picture in a neat nutshell.

The importance of headers on your scientific poster

Often, we approach our scientific posters assuming our audience will be as engrossed in our research as we are. However, it's a challenge to captivate a crowd—after all, each poster at a conference is vying for attention.

Yet, if you’ve designed your poster well, with a logical layout, cohesive colour scheme 🎨, legible typography, minimal citations, GREAT HEADINGS, and initiated an engaging conversation 🗣️ you might just witness the golden moment: ✨ pure connection ✨ where your audience is enthralled, wanting to know every detail.

Here we have presented our tips on how to construct your title, headers, and body text on your scientific poster so you are one step closer to achieving that moment. ✨ You want to build up, layer by layer, adding more detail.

A graphic showing the layers of scientific poster design. Starting with your title on the bottom layer, then section headings, then body text. And lastly YOU.

Starting from the bottom with a title that elegantly encapsulates your research in the most succinct way.

Then add the next layer—your enticing section headings, each providing a bite-sized overview that forms the key takeaways from your research.

Then the body text. This third layer offers more detail into your work—tying everything together.

But what about the cherry on top? 🍒 Well that's you. You are the final layer! Allowing your conversations to delve even deeper again.

It's all about adding careful layers to offer an accessible and enjoyable experience for your audience.

But what about the rest of the scientific poster design?

We have only just scratched the surface. If you want to learn more about poster design, check out our online course: How to Design an Award-Winning Scientific Poster to take you through the key design principles of designing a poster.

Learn our award-winning formula at your own pace, with 33 short video lessons, you can arm yourself with the skills and knowledge to create your own captivating scientific poster. As a bonus, we also include 8 templates & downloads for you! 🤩

Learn more about our online scientific poster course here. ✨ Once your research poster design is nailed down, the next step is to learn how to deliver an engaging poster presentation.


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