Preparing an Abstract

In general, abstracts are brief summaries of the research or study in which you have participated. The title of the study, listing of co-authors, and department/school/university should be listed at the beginning of the abstract.

The first named co-author must be:

  • an undergraduate
  • the person who will present the research at the symposium
  • the person who completes the online registration form

The remaining information in the abstract should appear as a single paragraph of not more than 250 words (longer abstracts will not be accepted). This paragraph should include the following components:

  • A brief statement introducing the topic of the study as well as the objective or hypothesis to be tested in the study.
  • A description of the research methodology used. If the research methods are not novel, this may be covered with a single sentence. However, if the methodology is new or central to the hypothesis, you may need additional information.
  • A summary of the results of the study.
  • A statement of the conclusions of the study as well as the implications of the results.

Before writing the abstract. Work from a brief outline using the bulleted points above as the starting point. The summary of results is the area with the greatest leeway in terms of length. Remember that your audience may be diverse and that discipline-specific “jargon” should be avoided or may need to be explained.

Abstracts are difficult to write. Abstracts are brief and need to contain a lot of information. If, in your first attempt, the abstract is too long, hold onto the most significant information and weed out words and phrases that add little to the understanding of the research. Rewrite sentences to achieve an economy of words without affecting the description of the work.

These guidelines will work for both fundamental and applied topics and should be broad enough to work for scientific or engineering studies as well as for studies from the fields of architecture, management, and the humanities, arts, and social sciences. Abstracts are identical whether the abstract is for a poster or an oral presentation.

Other guidelines for the abstracts include:

  • Formatted as an MS-Word document
  • Set in Times New Roman (Times), 12pt., black
  • Single spaced
  • One-inch margins all around
  • References are not required with the abstract
  • Do not include tables or figures in the abstract

Upload the completed abstract as indicated on the registration page.


There are two categories: Fundamental and Applied Research.

What is the difference between fundamental and applied research?

In all cases, problems are stated, information is gathered and analyzed, and an answer is provided. Yet, there are differences between fundamental and applied research.

  • Fundamental research is an investigation of a hypothesis to increase scientific understanding. There may be an application in mind, but the work will not lead directly to application.
  • Applied research is more closely connected to an application and is not focused on new fundamental understanding.

If you are not sure in which category your project belongs, talk with your faculty advisor.

Which research projects are acceptable for inclusion in the Undergraduate Research Symposium?

Independent study projects conducted under the supervision of, or with integral involvement of a Rensselaer faculty member are acceptable for this program. Design projects submitted for an undergraduate course are not acceptable. Projects may be individual or team-based.

Preparing a Poster

On the day of the poster session:

  • Tables will be pre-positioned in the CBIS, 2nd Level Atrium by noon.
  • Posters are assigned specific locations in accordance with the printed UGRS program.
  • Allow sufficient time for check in as well as unrolling and mounting the poster on your poster board.
  • Bring your poster and poster board to the CBIS, 2nd Level Atrium no later than one half-hour before presentations begin.

Posters are an effective means for presenting a summary of your work in a visual and interactive fashion. Your posters should illustrate your research in a colorful and engaging way. Here are some layout suggestions. Keep your words to a minimum and use pictures, graphs and figures to illustrate your work as much as possible.

Preparing your Poster:

  • Prepare your poster on a 3-panel, fold-out poster display board that's portable and free-standing. Maximum display width is 4 feet. Poster display boards can be purchased at the bookstore, office supply stores and most art supply stores. A computerized preparation is recommended, but not required. Public PC workstations with Adobe CS6 InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop are available in Sage 4510 and the VCC Lobby (the six PCs closest to the scanners in the VCC Lobby, hostnames: VCC-PC-01 through VCC-PC-06).
  • Consider using additional props, such as prototypes or a laptop display, but avoid the bulky, loud, and hazardous. All must fit within the 4-foot space allotted. Experiments can be presented as video clips on a laptop. Network connections are wireless only. Be certain that your laptop computer is fully charged. There is no power available.
  • Plotters in the VCC (vcplt and vcpltg, the large format color printers most students use to produce their posters) are very busy in the final days leading up to presentations. Prepare your poster well in advance.There will little time for set-up and, aside from push pins, no materials at the session for last minute preparation.
  • The title of your presentation should appear at the top of your poster and be at least 1 inch high and legible from at least eight feet away. Below the title indicate the team members' names, faculty sponsor, and departmental affiliation (s). Lettering should be large enough to be read from at least four feet away.
  • Use pictures, graphs, figures rather than text wherever possible. Bright colors will greatly enhance the attention of the viewer. A common way to organize a poster is in the form of 8.5 x 11 panels. Each panel describes one aspect of your project.
  • Use text sparingly. Try to have a panel stating the main result of your research in 6 lines or less. People don't enjoy reading a lot of text.
  • The flow of your poster should be from top left to bottom right. Use arrows and/or numbers to lead the viewer through the poster.
  • Script. Prepare a short explanation/presentation of about 5 to 10 minutes that you can give periodically to those assembled around your poster. Your scripted review should explain your project and its importance. Be prepared to answer questions.
  • Directions for poster-size printing to VCC plotters.

Additional Suggestions

  • Stick with colors which provide good contrast. For example: black on white, green on white, red on white, and navy on white.
  • Use only white backgrounds. Printing colored backgrounds on Institute plotters is slow and saturates the poster with ink.
  • You may want to consider organizing your poster in three vertical columns.

Column 1: Objective & Methods

Provide schematic / pictures of experimental set-up.

Column 2:Results

List results as bulleted points followed by graphics and pictures.

Column 3: Discussion & Conclusions

Making a Poster Presentation

Watch (Windows Media) Professor and judge, Lee Odell, along with Rensselaer alum, Caitlin Piette, share their tips, helping you make an outstanding presentation of your work. (If viewing this video from off-campus, activate the VPN client to prevent repeated buffering.)

Making an Oral Presentation

PowerPoint or Keynote are the media for formal presentations in most technical and business settings. Using PowerPoint for your oral presentation is not strictly required. It is your likely choice, and the rooms for the oral presentations will be PC-equipped. Bring PC-compatible and PC-tested presentations on flash memory sticks for delivery from classroom installed PCs. If you bring a Mac-please be sure to have the connector.

The Script

Before discussing presentation dos and don’ts, step back and reread your submitted abstract. The abstract contains all significant points and is the blueprint of your talk. Develop an oral script and keep it. Your scripted talk should be strong enough to stand alone in the face of multimedia snafus. The script is not part of the visual presentation. Do not begin with an outline of what you will cover. The audience will have read the abstract before deciding to attend. The abstract framed your question, presented data or information to support your study, and discussed the significance of the results.

The Presentation Slides

Each presenter will have 13 minutes, of which 10 are for presentation and 3 are for questions. How many slides can you use in a 10-minute presentation? Counting your title slide, never have more slides than you have minutes. Timings are tight and time limits are firm. The next presenter will have 2 minutes to set up.

The First Slide

The standard form of your first slide is project title, co-authors (if any), and relevant departmental information. This can be projected as you begin but should not be read to the audience. If you read it to them, they will stop listening to your presentation.


  • Slide design and layout should be consistent and simple. Beware of fancy colors, backgrounds, and animation schemes as these false steps detract from the presentation.
  • Choose a font size and color that can be read easily by the audience (minimum of 18 to 20 pt or look at the slide at 66% magnification to see if you can read it).
  • Avoid bullets if possible, and never use more than one caliber. If your slide is so full of words that the audience must stop to read it, they will stop listening to you.
  • When presenting graphical or pictorial data, it is the graph or picture that is important. Squeezing a graph or photo onto half the slide and explaining the data in bullet points on the other half of the slide distracts attention from the data and makes the data hard to see. The bulleted information should be in your script and the graph in your presentation.

Some Examples

As people from different fields will be making oral presentations, there is no exact formula for a good PowerPoint presentation but we all recognize one when we see one. However, many more presentations are made worse through inappropriate reliance on the mechanics of PowerPoint. A simple Google search for “bad PowerPoint presentations” returns numerous examples. The example below is a single PowerPoint slide rife with misuses of bullets and other bad practices common in PowerPoint presentations. This one comes from a NASA presentation after the destruction of the Shuttle Columbia during reentry. The slide is within the box with appropriate commentary outside of the box:

Slide Reference

Mistakes and Ideas of Others

How to Give a Bad Presentation

The Gettysburg Address without and with Powerpoint

Day of Event, How it Works

  • See Process & Dates for detailed schedule and timings.
  • Two individual/teams will share an 8 foot table to display their posters.
  • Your posters must be free-standing for proper tabletop display.
  • During the poster session attendees will be able to walk around, and browse for projects they find interesting. They will be given a list of posters in the session, and a brief abstract of each project.
  • Some of the attendees will also be judges. They will base their award decisions on these discussions and their impressions about the quality of your research work and poster presentation
  • Dress Code – Most students wear suits. The competition can be close. Distracting or inappropriate attire sends a message you probably do not intend, but the message transmits nonetheless. Dress smartly.