The text content of an academic poster will generally be very important, so you need to make sure it is easily readable, and helps viewers follow the flow of ideas.
Readability can be improved by reflecting on some essential principles of text design. You'll find a lot about this on the web, but here are a few pointers.
The three-levels model is a structural principle based around three levels of text: title(s), sub-headings and body content. If you design three distinctive appearances for these, it helps the reader find their way around the content.
At the very least, these should use different sizes, but it's worth giving consideration to colour and font choice too. For example:
It may be that your brief specifies a minimum wordcount, but otherwise, how much text should you be writing?
A poster is not an essay. It's one of those situations where 'less is more'. Let visuals speak for themselves, and keep your written content as efficient as possible. Use shorter paragraphs than you would normally, and make good use of summary methods like bullet points.
As a rule of thumb, 300-500 words might be typical. Plus references. But practice varies from discipline to discipline. As ever, try to find some peer examples for inspiration.
Think about other forms of poster too, like street advertising. How do they convey a message? What text is being used? It's an extreme example, but sometimes there are opportunities to even forgo text altogether and let visuals do the talking...
For instance, here's a process being outlined... a methodology of sorts...
Think of your poster text more as an extended, illustrated abstract summary... like the abstract you get with a journal article, only with the added advantage of illustrations. There won't be room for everything but there doesn't need to be. Let your visuals do as much work for you as possible, and concentrate on the "must know" elements for the text.
You might find it helpful to draft out the text for your poster in advance. Look at ways you can structure it and break it up into sections on your poster. It might help you to formulate your layout and your design as a whole.
If you 'Google' about readability of fonts, you'll find all sorts of opinions, and even quite a bit of research. You can ignore most of this if you remember:
UPPER CASE IS NOT EASIER TO READ
'Fancy' or 'artistic' fonts can be tiring to read —
ESPECIALLY IF YOU WRITE THEM IN UPPER CASE!
The best way to judge the readability of your poster is to ask someone else to read it.
In terms of font selection, University-managed computers have a broad range of fonts. If you're on your own computer and want a better variety of fonts, there are a number of free fonts available online. We got the fancy font above ("Arizona") from Google Fonts, and there's also Font Squirrel. As always, use caution if downloading fonts from unfamiliar sites.
As any optician's chart will demonstrate, size of font is important. Your poster needs to be readable from at least a metre away.
Font size in PowerPoint is in 'points' – a sizing convention which is consistent across different paper sizes: 14pt on a sheet of A4 paper is the same as 14pt on a sheet of A1, which means you can always print off a handy font-size chart in Word and use it as a guide. However, different fonts have different interpretations of points: one font at 14pt may be a different size to another.
On a poster you will need to use higher point sizes than you would for writing a hand-held document, simply because of the viewing distance. As a simple rule, look to double the font size you might use for a hand-held document. The advice typically given is to use:
>72pt for titles,
>50pt for other headings,
and >30pt for the main body text.
However, this very much depends on which font you choose, and even on the nature of the text you're writing (you might go as low as 18pt in some "smallprint" cases, though probably not much smaller). Size isn't everything, and there are other factors that can affect readability.
Academic posters have writing on them. And that writing is there to be read. One reason why a column layout is so often used is because it reduces the line lengths, making it less likely that you will accidentally skip a line or lose your place.
...is harder to scan than...
It's why newspapers and magazines used columns in the first place.
Introducing a bit of extra space into text, particularly headings, can make them more noticeable. It doesn't usually help for whole paragraphs of text, though.
Text in PowerPoint can be entered into text boxes or shapes.
To insert a text box, choose Insert > Text > Text Box. However, when you adjust the width of a text box, the height is adjusted automatically to match the length of the text content. This is great for presentations, but less helpful for posters, where positioning is likely to be quite important.
You're therefore probably better off using shapes as your text container...
Any shape can be used to hold text, and the size remains as set, making them much easier to use with posters. They're particularly suitable for text boxes with fill or borders, but you can also make the border and background transparent if they're not required.
Shapes can be found at Insert > Illustrations > Shapes. There's several shapes to choose from. Rectangles (with or without rounded corners) are the easiest choice to work with for a box structure, but any shape can be used. With more complicated shapes, you may find the margins restrictive, and it may sometimes be easier to overlay a transparent rectangle.
Having selected the shape you want, drag to draw it onto the page (hold shift to create a regular shape). Select the shape and you will be able to start typing into it.
There is another form of text entry in PowerPoint... WordArt. It can do some nice things (not least being able to write in an arc), but be careful: WordArt can easily end up looking a bit... well... naff.
Highlighting a section of text will allow you to format that section, but if you want to change all the text within a text box or shape, the best thing to do is to select the entire shape. The easiest way to do that (especially if the shape has no background fill) is to click the shape's border. It's quite a narrow target to hit so it may take a few attempts before you get the knack. Your cursor will turn to the "move" crosshair pointer as you hover over the selectable area, and once selected, the "expand" and "rotate" toggles will appear on the shape. You can now start formatting.
You can get more precise control of your paragraphs from the dialogue launcher toggle at the bottom-right-hand corner of the Home > Paragraph ribbon group (on a Mac, click on any text then go to the Format menu, then Paragraph...). Here you can configure settings such as line-spacing and paragraph-spacing:
The "Multiple" option in the line-spacing settings lets you express line spacing fractionally, as a multiple of the default line space. 1 gives single line spacing; 2 gives double line spacing, etc. So in the example above, 1.2 means there's an extra 20% of space for each line.
You shouldn't have any problems setting the font, size etc, but for other attributes there's a dialogue launcher at the bottom-right-hand corner of the Home > Font ribbon group. In addition to providing more font control options, it also has a tab for setting up character spacing:
When you first create a shape containing text, the content will be centred; there will also be a margin around the text. These attributes can easily be changed using Home > Paragraph > Align Text. The More Options section of this Align Text menu will open the Format Shape side panel where there are further settings, including margin options. We'll look at those in more detail in the next section...
The text boxes and shapes used for text can be configured in various ways to help with presentation.
As with the background of the page itself, the background of a shape (its fill) can be a solid colour, graduated, patterned or even a photograph. You can also set its transparency level, which allows some of the background to show through, though be sure to test this thoroughly as it can sometimes give poor results when printed.
A shape's border — its outline — can be solid or patterned, and can be of different widths.
Once a shape has been drawn, its attributes can be changed from the Shape Format > Shape Styles ribbon group:
When you select More Fill Colors... from the "Shape Fill" or "Shape Outline" dropdowns, you'll have the chance to set a precise colour (and transparency) using numerical values:
A number of special effects can be applied from Shape Format > Shape Styles > Shape Effects — of these, the most commonly used with text boxes is the drop-shadow.
Employed with care, it can appear to lift the shape slightly off the page:
When you first create a shape containing text, there will be a margin around the text so that it does not sit tight against the edges. All four margins can be changed independently if required.
The controls to set these margins are a little buried:
Textbox controls are rather straightforward for rectangular shapes. For other shapes you may find that the writing area is a little restrictive, even with margins set to zero. You may find it simpler to overlay a transparent rectangular shape to hold your text.