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Designing a Research Poster
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The last assignment in my Incubator series is a research poster, designed to test students’ understanding of document design and audience. The activity focuses on the same topic as the White Paper Assignment students worked on for the penultimate writing project. The assignment has two underlying goals:
- Students will recast the information from their white papers for a different audience and purpose.
- Students will focus on visual design to communicate their messages.
As with previous assignments in this series, the assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in Technical Communication.
Research Poster Assignment
You will design a poster presentation, based on the details in your white paper. Your poster will be part of a poster session that the incubator sponsors for the local community. Like the white paper, the presentation will focus on the incubator goal of public outreach and education. As an extension, additional investors and clients also attend the session, so you have the potential to make critical connections for your business.
This week, you received the following memo explaining details on your company’s participation in the December poster presentation event:
Ut Prosim Incubator
1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060
|To:||December Poster Presentation Participants|
|From:||Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director|
Manolito Reyna Bautista, Manager of the Public Outreach Office
|Subject:||Preparing Your Research Poster|
|Date:||October 29, 2018|
Now that you have your white papers well under way, it’s time to begin work on your research posters for the December poster presentation. We have invited 250 local business, university, and community leaders to the upcoming event. Members of the general public can also attend.
Your poster presentation (like your white paper) is due by November 26 [Portfolio 2 due date].
Research Poster Purpose and Audience
Your research poster focuses on the same purpose as your white paper. As explained in the call for proposals, your research poster will inform non-expert readers about a technical topic relevant to the work and mission of your company. These documents will share what we do and why we do it with the university, alumni, and local community. Your poster will contribute directly to our goal of public outreach and education.
As an objective research poster, your document will either provide knowledge or information about a subject relevant to your company or provide solutions to a problem or challenge that relates to your company—or even a combination of both goals.
The audience for your poster presentation differs slightly from that of your white paper. You will communicate your research to the general public, university community, and potential investors and clients who will attend the session.
Your research poster will define or explain your topic and discuss it with the goal of informing your readers about it fully and with relevant, specific details. To follow the customary poster presentation structure, you need to shape the information into a Problem-Solution organization. Imagine that your topic either is a problem or a solution to a problem, and then discuss how to solve it or how it solves the problem.
For instance, for a white paper that focuses on best password management strategies, the problem for your research poster would be password hacking and security. The solution would be your password management strategies.
You should focus on this structure for your poster:
- Problem Discussion
- Conclusions & Recommendations
- Works Cited
You should present the information in your report objectively; that is, without letting opinion shape what you have to say. Its goal is to provide a response to the question "What is [your subject] all about?" This doesn't mean you can't present opinions about it, but those opinions must come from experts in the field. For example, Expert A thinks the subject of your article is a fantastic option for reducing the need to irrigate crops, but Expert B is sure it won't work as planned. You can present these opposing viewpoints, and draw conclusions about why one option is preferred.
Poster Presentation Expectations
- Size: 48" X 36", presented in landscape orientation (horizontal). The size is absolute, based on our display boards.
- Document Design: Use a polished, professional layout that relies on design strategies that increase the document’s readability. Must use appropriately-sized headings, text, and images. People need to be able to see your work.
- Graphics and Visual Elements: Include as many relevant graphical elements (e.g., photos, illustrations, graphs, tables) as necessary to present your ideas. Avoid clipart (which typically looks unpolished or unprofessional), and use only graphical elements that directly relate to the information in the presentation. All graphical elements must be your company’s intellectual property, or you must provide complete documentation. Graphical elements that are not your own intellectual property must meet fair use guidelines.
- Research Support: Information must be supported by fully-documented research, including short, relevant quotations. In addition to citing published research studies, you can take advantage of the campus community by tapping university experts on the topic you are discussing.
- Documentation Format: APA citation style (or the appropriate style for your field, if desired—for instance, an electrical engineer can use IEEE).
- Submission Format: *.ppt, *pptx, or Google Slides link.
To ensure that we have time to review and edit your submission, please submit your research poster by 11:59 PM on Monday, November 26. If additional time is necessary, you can take advantage of the grace period, which ends at 11:59 PM on Thursday, November 29.
If you need any help with this project, please let either of us know or contact Traci’s assistant, Leslie Crow <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.
Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.
The Project Assignment
Step 1: Review your notes on the topic and audiences, as established in your proposal.
Your proposal should have the basic starting information that you need to begin work on your research poster.
Step 2: Examine the information about research posters in the readings.
Review the following readings for specific details on the information and details to include in your research poster:
- Markel & Selber, Chapter 21: Making Oral Presentations
- Markel & Selber, Chapter 18: “Using a Problem-Solving Model for Preparing Recommendation Reports” (starting on p. 472)
- Woolston, Chris. “Conference Presentations: Lead the Poster Parade.” Nature 536 (115-17). 4 August 2016.
- Miller, Jane. Preparing and Presenting Effective Research Posters
Step 3: Examine the information about presentations in the readings.
The textbook provides complete details on how to write proposals. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:
- Use “Figure 18.1 A Problem-Solving Model for Recommendation Reports” (on page 474 of Markel & Selber) to structure your information.
- Follow the advice in the “Ethics Note: Presenting Honest Recommendations” (on page 477 of Markel & Selber) to ensure your poster meets the ethical requirements of your field.
- Review the “Checklist for Preparing and Presenting an Effective Research Posters” [sic] (starting on page 326 of Miller) to determine the information to include on your poster.
- Follow the extensive advice in “Best Practices for Effective Scientific Posters” to arrange your content, design your work, and polish your presentation.
- Use the details in “Appendix Part B: Documenting Your Sources” for information on APA citation style (starting on page 622 of Markel & Selber) and information on IEEE citation style (starting on page 639 of Markel & Selber) to gather relevant details for your documentation and citations. Note that you may alternately use the citation style that is relevant for your field if you prefer.
Step 3: Write and design your poster.
As you work, also keep the following points in mind:
- Use plain language to make the ideas easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
- Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
- Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
- Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
- Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.
Step 4: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for your research poster. Review your project, using the Assessment Criteria below.
Step 5: Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242 of Markel & Selber).
You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part 😧 Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.
Step 6: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your research poster to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 11/08 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your research poster by November 9. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.
Step 7: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 11/08 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by November 12 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts.
Step 8: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.
Step 9: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 2, due November 26.
Have your Research Poster finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 2, which is due Monday, November 26. The grace period for Project Portfolio 2 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, November 29.
For All Technical Writing Projects
All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:
- Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
- Meets the needs of the intended audience.
- Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
- Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
- Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
- Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
- Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.
For Research Posters
Your project should meet the following criteria for effective instructions:
- Has a clear, compelling title that is specific to the poster.
- Adopts a tone and approach that will appeal to readers.
- Demonstrates a clear understanding of the research literature on this topic.
- Provides details and explanation of the information arranged in this structure:
- Problem Discussion
- Conclusions & Recommendations
- Works Cited
- Relies on sources that are accurate, unbiased, comprehensive, appropriately technical, current, and clear.
- Uses quotations from research sources to support and strengthen the project.
- Includes presentation graphics that meet these five characteristics (see Markel & Selber, pp. 587–589):
- It presents a clear, well-supported claim.
- It is easy to see.
- It is easy to read.
- It is simple.
- It is correct.
- It is either your own work or meets fair use guidelines.
- Provides accurate and complete in-text citations for all information that is not the author’s own work (including information that is paraphrased, quoted, and summarized).
- Includes a Works Cited section (e.g., bibliography) that does the following:
- identifies each source cited in the poster
- contains complete and accurate information for each citation.
- uses either APA citation style or the preferred citation style for your major.
- Demonstrates a clear relationship between the graphics and the accompanying text.
Students were generally successful with this assignment. Aside from errors in the size or shape of the posters, the most typical challenges related to the balance between words and visual elements and the design issues such as the font size. When I teach the genre again, I will spend more time on design, to help students learn how little changes can make a significant difference. I am thinking of an activity where students are given the content for the poster and work on how to design the piece as a possibility.
Now that the term has come to an end, students have worked their way through all of these assignments. The different activities connected relatively well, but the projects had the typical issues that I see when assignments are not as authentic as possible. Specifically, the imaginary companies that students created were not always an exact match for the projects. Additionally, students were required to make up information for some of the writing projects. In more authentic writing scenarios, all the details would be established and known. There is still value in the Incubator idea, but I need to do some more development to help ensure students succeed. If you have any ideas that will help me revise any of the assignments, please leave me a comment below.
Photo credit: Digital humanities poster session by Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.
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