Purposes for Poster Sessions
Although most poster sessions occur as part of professional conferences, posters also appear in more open forums as a way to disperse information to the general public. Both the purpose and the audience for the poster determine important elements of the poster itself.
Professional Posters Inform and Argue
When a professional presents original research, the goal of the poster is twofold. Not only should the poster present the data and findings uncovered in the research, but the poster also presents an argument for the validity and importance of the research. Although the argument seems secondary, it's a key factor in helping the writer decide what material to include in the poster.
The fastest growing variation of the professional poster session is the Internet session. Professionals prepare posters about their original work and post them on the Web. Instead of walking around viewing others' posters at a conference, participants of the virtual poster session view others' posters online. Electronic forums then allow participants and other audiences to ask questions of the poster authors. In the sample linked below, notice that the text is considerably longer than the authors could include on a physical poster, but the virtual poster eliminates the space problem that a physical posterboard imposes.
"General" Posters Inform
The other major type of poster—the informational poster—is typically shaped more by its audience than by its purpose. When a poster session is organized to spread information, writers need to consider how much background information viewers/readers are likely to know. Then writers can determine the appropriate detail to include on the poster. Because the intended audience for a poster can vary so widely, writers should always consult the session organizers to learn about the expected audience.