Science Fair Project Display: Putting it All Together

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Oct 28, 2010

The display is an essential part of your project. Although it alone will not save a bad project, it can enhance the success of a good one. There is nothing more disappointing than to have a judge or viewer overlook a meritorious project purely on the basis of its illegible or disorganized display. Therefore, it is worth spending some extra time making an attractive display.

Due to the guidelines established by the Intel ISEF, most state and regional fairs have put the emphasis on a “poster session” approach, where the backboard is the focal point of the display accompanied by a report and abstract. In general, your display should consist of a great-looking backboard and report both containing text, tables, graphs, charts, photographs, and diagrams to fully illustrate and explain your project.

Your exhibit should show all aspects of your project. There are many ways to do this, but you must remember that all information on the backboard should be clearly and concisely summarized to allow the viewer to grasp the essence of the project quickly. Lengthy discussions should be confined to the report. Only certain items from your project can be displayed. See “Display Restrictions” in this chapter for a general list of what can and cannot be displayed at the science fair.

The Backboard

The backboard is usually the most important part of your display. It should include all the major parts of your project. The backboard is essentially an upright, self-supporting board with organized highlights of your project. It is usually three-sided, although it does not necessarily have to be. The backboard should meet the spacing standards of the Intel ISEF if you plan to enter your project in a state or regional fair that is affiliated with the ISEF. The dimensions of your display must not be more than 108 inches (274 centimeters) high, including the table; 30 inches (76 centimeters) deep, and 48 inches (122 centimeters) wide. If these dimensions are exceeded, you may be disqualified.

When constructing your backboard, stay away from thin posterboard or cardboard. Backboards made of these materials will bend and do not look very professional. Instead, purchase a firm, self-supporting material such as a reinforced paperboard or corkboard. In the long run, you will find these types of materials easier to work with and more attractive. Alternatively, you may choose to purchase a premade backboard. In recent years this has become a popular choice among students. Two companies that specialize in the sale of premade backboards are Showboard and Science Fair Supply. Both offer backboards in a variety of sizes and materials and even offer other project display accessories. You can reach Showboard at 1-800-323-9189 or visit their Web site: Science Fair Supply can be reached at 1-800-556-3247 or online at:

Select appropriate lettering for your backboard. Use your computer’s word processor or purchase graphic design software that allows you to make a neat, attractive presentation on your backboard. If you do not have software that will allow you to do this, you might want to purchase self-sticking letters or make use of the services of a professional printer. In recent years, almost all science fair project backboards (at the state and international level) have typeface styles and background patterns that have been rendered in one of many terrific graphic design software programs. If you do not have such a program on your home computer, your school probably has one. Whichever program you choose, keep in mind that because so many options are available, it is simply unacceptable to handprint your backboard, especially if you are aiming for a top-notch project.

Now that you know how to construct a backboard, you need to know what information you should put on it and where to place it. There is no standard way of making a backboard; however, all the information displayed on it should be well organized. The project title, for example, should stand out in the middle section in bold print. The rest of your information should be placed in an orderly fashion from left to right under organized headings that follow the scientific method. You can also apply headings that relate more specifically to your subject. Whatever headings you choose, make sure they are explicit so that a viewer can grasp each element of your project quickly and efficiently.

The information that you place under each heading is crucial. It must be concise and inclusive. Do not fill up your backboard with excess information. Try to summarize the facts under each heading in no more than 300 words. Additional backboard space can be filled with additional visual information on your subject.

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