Designing a Research Poster

Posters are widely used in the academic community, and most conferences include poster presentations in their program.  Research posters summarize information or research concisely and attractively to help publicize it and generate discussion. As we prepare for the Undergraduate Research Symposium, here are some tips to help you make an engaging poster.  

Essential Elements of a Poster 

The essential items that must be included in your poster are these five things:  

  • Title 
  • Names of Presenters/Researchers 
  • Contact Information 
  • Institutional Affiliation 
  • Your Research  

The first four elements of that are reasonably straightforward. The fifth element (your research) is a little less direct, but it leaves you space to be creative with your poster design so that it matches what you have to say about your research.  

What Makes a Good Research Poster 

The poster format provides more freedom in how to present an idea than a standard academic paper, so feel free to be creative in your poster design. Don’t feel limited by the text of the paper that you’re basing the poster on or strict conventions of how all posters “should” look. You can use boxes, different formatting techniques, fonts, and images to create a visually pleasing poster. Generally, you want to follow these basic design guidelines:  

  • Important information should be readable from about 10 feet away
  • Text is clear and to the point  
  • Use of bullets, numbering, and headlines make it easy to read  
  • Effective use of graphics, color and fonts  
  • Consistent and clean layout 
poster about tips for designin an effective research poster

Image credit: Poster Session Tips by, via Penn State


Different disciplines have different norms and expectations as to what should be included. If you’re unsure of what’s appropriate for your field, look for some examples of research posters in your discipline, or ask one of your professors for guidance. 

What Software Can I Use to Make a Poster 

You have many options to create a research poster. Three common tools are:  

  • PowerPoint 
  • Adobe InDesign 
  • Canva 

Most people feel most comfortable using PowerPoint, especially since it can be pretty straightforward to use if you have used Microsoft Office Products before.  

Adobe InDesign will give you complete creative flexibility, but it can be difficult to use if you have never used an Adobe product before. You can get a free Adobe license during the 2021-2022 school year through the Illinois WebStore 

Canva is great for creating professional looking design with a user-friendly, simple approach. However, it has a fairly narrow window of poster sizes that can be used with the free version, so you can check that out before starting your design. Even if you are unable to create your poster on Canva due to size restriction, it is a good place to get some inspiration and then carry those ideas over to PowerPoint or InDesign.  

Whichever software you use to create your poster, make sure to double check that your poster meets the size requirements. The standard size for a research poster is 48” by 36″, but make sure to verify with your advisors before sending it off to print. 


Including visualizations can help your poster stand out and help others understand your research. There are lots of ways to include visualizations on your poster, including:  

  • Graphs 
  • Charts  
  • Photographs 
  • Word Clouds 
  • Quotations  
  • Stock Images 
word cloud visualization of presentation tags

Image credit: Visualizations by Scholarly Commons via University of Illinois

If you plan to use stock images in your poster or have copyright questions about legally using images, contact the library and we can help!  

The staff at the Scholarly Commons also has knowledge about resources that can help you create data visualizations, such as Excel, Tableau, Wordle, ArcGIS, and more.  

Printing Tips 

Knowing how and when to print your poster can be tricky. Follow these guidelines to make sure your poster is printed correctly and on time:  

  • Printing out posters takes time, especially around the Undergraduate Research Conference. Be sure to finish your poster with enough time for it to be printed!      
  • Print yourself a small version of your poster to make sure the proportions and colors look correct. Some print services offer these pre-prints 
  • Have a friend look your poster over for spelling or grammatical mistakes      
  • Be sure your file is the correct size before sending it off 
  • Do not laminate your poster or print them on poster board, print posters on fabric for easy travel or print on poster paper 

For more tips, examples, and how-to guides, feel free to check out the Scholarly Commons Research Posters LibGuide 

It Matters How We Open Knowledge: Open Access Week 2021

It’s that time of year again! Open Access Week is October 25-31, and the University of Illinois Library is excited to participate. Open Access Week is an international event where the academic and research community come together to learn about Open Access and to share that knowledge with others. The theme guiding this year’s discussion of open access will be “It Matters How We Open Knowledge: Building Structural Equity.”

These discussions will build on last year’s theme of “Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion.” While last year’s theme was intended to get people thinking about the ways our current information systems marginalize and exclude, this year’s theme is focused on information equity as it relates to governance.

OA Week digital banner with theme name and date

Specifically, this year’s theme intentionally aligns with the recently released United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommendation on Open Science, which encompasses practices such as publishing open research, campaigning for open access, and generally making it easier to publish and communicate scientific knowledge.

Circulated in draft form following discussion by representatives of UNESCO’s 193 member countries, the recommendation powerfully articulates and centers the importance of equity in pursuing a future for scholarship that is open by default. As the first global standard-setting framework on Open Science, the UNESCO Recommendation will provide an important guide for governments around the world as they move from aspiration to the implementation of open research practices.


While the University of Illinois is not hosting any formal events for open access, the Library encourages students, staff, and faculty to familiarize themselves with existing open access resources, including:

  • IDEALS: The Illinois Digital Environment for Access to Learning and Scholarship, collects, disseminates, and provides persistent and reliable access to the research and scholarship of faculty, staff, and students at Illinois. Once an article is deposited in IDEALS, it may be efficiently and effectively accessed by researchers around the world, free of charge.
  • Copyright: Scholarly Communication and Publishing offers workshops and consultation services on issues related to copyright. While the Library cannot offer legal advice, we can help you to identify information and issues you may want to consider in addressing your copyright question.
  • Illinois Open Publishing Network: The Illinois Open Publishing Network (IOPN) is a set of digital publishing initiatives that are hosted and coordinated at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library. IOPN offers a suite of publishing services to members of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign community and aims to facilitate the dissemination of high-quality, open access scholarly publications. IOPN services include infrastructure and support for publishing open access journals, monographs, born-digital projects that integrate multimedia and interactive content.

IOPN logo

For more information on how to support access at the University of Illinois, please reach out to the Scholarly Commons or the Scholarly Communication and Publishing unit. For more information about International Open Access Week, please visit Get the latest updates on Open Access events on twitter using the hashtag #OAWeek.

Big Ten Academic Alliance Open Access Developments

Last month, the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) made a series of announcements regarding its support of Open Access (OA) initiatives across its member libraries. Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use those articles fully in the digital environment. Put plainly, Open Access ensures that anyone, anywhere, can access and use information. By supporting these developments in OA, the BTAA aims to make information more accessible to the university community, to benefit scholars by eliminating paywalls to research, and to help researchers to publish their own work.

Big ten academic alliance logo

On July 19, the BTAA announced the finalization of a three-year collective agreement with the Open Library of Humanities (OLH), a charitable organization dedicated to publishing open access scholarship with no author-facing article processing charges. OLH publishes academic journals from across the humanities disciplines, as well as hosting its own multidisciplinary journal. This move was made possible thanks to the OLH Open Consortial Offer, an initiative that offers consortia, societies, networks and scholarly projects the opportunity to join the Open Library of Humanities Library Partnership Subsidy system as a bloc, enabling each institution to benefit from a discount. Through this agreement, the BTAA hopes to expand scholarly publishing opportunities available to its member libraries, including the University of Illinois.

Following the finalization of the OLH agreement, the BTAA announced on July 21 the finalization of a three-year collective action agreement with MIT Press that provides Direct to Open (D2O) access for all fifteen BTAA member libraries. Developed over two years with the support of the Arcadia Fund, D2O gives institutions the opportunity to harness collective action to support access to knowledge. As participating libraries, the Big Ten members will help open access to all new MIT Press scholarly monographs and edited collections from 2022. As a BTAA member, the University of Illinois will support the shifting publication of new MIT Press titles to open access. The agreement also gives the University of Illinois community access to MIT Press eBook backfiles that were not previously published open access.

By entering into these agreements, the BTAA aims to promote open access publishing across its member libraries. On how these initiatives will impact the University of Illinois scholarly community, Head of Scholarly Communication & Publishing Librarian Dan Tracy said:

“The Library’s support of OLH and MIT Press is a crucial investment in open access publishing infrastructure. The expansion of open access publishing is a great opportunity to increase the reach and impact of faculty research, but common models of funding open access through article processing charges makes it challenging for authors in the humanities and social sciences particularly to publish open access. The work of OLH to publish open access journals, and MIT Press to publish open access books, without any author fees while also providing high quality, peer reviewed scholarly publishing opportunities provides greater equity across disciplines.”

Since these announcements, the BTAA has continued to support open access initiatives among its member libraries. Most recently, the BTAA and the University of Michigan Press signed a three-year agreement on August 5 that provides multi-year support for the University of Michigan Press’ new open access model Fund to Mission. Based on principles of equity, justice, inclusion, and accessibility, Fund to Mission aims to transition upwards of 75% of the press’ monograph publications into open access resources by the end of 2023. This initiative demonstrates a move toward a more open, sustainable infrastructure for the humanities and social sciences, and is one of several programs that university presses are developing to expand the reach of their specialist publications. As part of this agreement, select BTAA members, University of Illinois included, will have greater access to significant portions of the University of Michigan’s backlist content.

The full release and more information about recent BTAA announcements can be found on the BTAA website. To learn more about Open Access efforts at the University of Illinois, visit our OA Guide.

Meet our Graduate Assistants: Michael Steffen


I graduated from the University of Iowa in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and two minors in Informatics and Museum Studies. As an undergraduate, I had several student jobs related to the LIS field, including an Exhibit Preparation Assistant, a Digital Library Aide, and I worked in the university’s Special Collections Department. Across those positions, my work included assisting patrons at the service desk, updating metadata for the library’s catalog and finding aids, and contributed to the development of workflows related to the digital preservation of collections. I’ve also had several internships with various federal agencies, including the National Archives and Records Administration, Library of Congress, and Department of Transportation. 


As a History major, I’ve always been interested in the maintenance and organization of archives, libraries, and other information repositories. During my sophomore year, I developed my own research project with the University of Iowa Archives in which I examined the archive’s LGBTQ+ special collections. From this investigation, I learned about the different skills and tools it takes to build, maintain, preserve, and digitize archival collections. Over the next few years, I worked with the University Archivist to collect more records for the archives, establish relationships with LGBTQ+ student organizations, and increase community engagement with the collections. By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to have a career in the LIS field and work in a profession that, at its best, emphasizes accessibility, collaboration, and innovation. 


My research interests are pretty broad. Right now, I am writing a first-year graduate paper about the development of LGBTQ+ community archives in the United States. While I anticipate this project to mainly revolve around community engagement and collection development policies, a large portion of the paper is dedicated to challenges in cataloging, metadata creation, and digital accessibility. As I delve further into my studies, these are all areas that I hope to do more research in. Additionally, I have a strong interest in the digital humanities field. Digital humanities is a fairly broad category, but I think the more work LIS professionals do to bridge the gap between technology, digital preservation, digital publication, and the humanities, the more accessible and interdisciplinary research becomes. 


I think our Library Guides are a great tool for patrons who are unfamiliar with the Scholarly Commons and want to learn more about what we do. Our resource guides talk about everything from digital humanities to geocoding to how to make a research poster, to how to manage your scholarly presence online. If you’re a student or scholar doing research in the digital age, our LibGuides are a great entry point for several important tools. 


When I graduate, I hope to have a career in federal librarianship. Information accessibility and community engagement are the cornerstones of the LIS profession. To me, being able to promote those ideals at the federal level means connecting citizens with invaluable information about how the government operates and how narratives within our national history are formed. Federal information repositories comprise some of the world’s most comprehensive records of human creativity and knowledge. By connecting those records with the general public, and by working with the general public to insert a more diverse range of knowledge and experiences into the collections, it makes our histories richer, more complex, and more interesting to study and preserve.

Save The Date: 10th Anniversary!

Text: Celebrate a decade with the Scholarly Commons. Background: fireworks and party banner.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Scholarly Commons! To celebrate this momentous occasion, the Scholarly Commons is presenting a digital exhibition commemorating our history. This digital exhibition will highlight the projects, partnerships, and people that supported the unit over the past ten years. The exhibition will include:

An Interactive Timeline of the Scholarly Commons History

The Scholarly Commons has celebrated many milestones over the course of the past decade. From creating the Savvy Researcher Workshops to hosting symposiums and competitions to inviting guest scholars to the UIUC campus to share their ideas and projects with our community. The Scholarly Commons has created long-lasting initiatives that enrich the academic life of the UIUC. 

To commemorate some of our biggest achievements, the Scholarly Commons has created a timeline featuring the projects, partnerships, and people who have built the Scholarly Commons through the years. To read these highlights and learn about the future of the Scholarly Commons, you can view the timeline here.

A GIS Mapping Project Highlighting Former Scholarly Commons Graduate Assistants

Graduate Assistants play a valuable role in keeping the Scholarly Commons functional and efficient. They provide consultation services for patrons, develop instructional materials for technologies and tools in the Scholarly Commons, facilitate in-person and virtual workshops, and perform a wide variety of other tasks. By the time they graduate and leave the Scholarly Commons, our hope is that our Graduate Assistants gain new technical skills, form long-lasting relationships, and develop a profound sense of professionalism and responsibility that they will carry with them throughout their careers.

To recognize the achievements of our former GAs, the Scholarly Commons has created an interactive map showcasing where they are now and how their time with the Scholarly Commons impacted their careers. To see the global influence of the Scholarly Commons for yourself, you can view the map here.  

A Talk by Guest Speaker Thomas Padilla

Thomas Padilla in a study space at the University of Nevada Libraries

Thomas Padilla at the University of Nevada Libraries

On Tuesday October 20, 2020 from 3:30-4:30pm, former Scholarly Commons Graduate Assistant and current Interim Head of Knowledge Production at the University of Nevada Las Vegas Libraries Thomas Padilla will lead a discussion around the importance of responsible operations in libraries. 

Drawing on his experience leading development of the research agenda Responsible Operations: Data Science, Machine Learning, and AI in Libraries, Padilla will discuss how cultural heritage practitioners and their partners can improve collection description and discovery, develop machine actionable collections, and create space for members of their organizations to expand skills and deepen cross-functional community partnerships using data science, machine learning, and AI technology. To attend this lecture, use this Zoom Webinar Link

To stay updated on all these events and more, please visit our 10th anniversary webpage on the Scholarly Commons website. Thank you all for celebrating 10 years with us!