Many Swiss universities offer their students courses on writing research articles in English. Other academic genres, for example posters, are rarely taught, even though students are often required to prepare posters in English. For guidance, novice researchers rely on their supervisors or the lists of ?dos and don?ts? they find in style guides. Although some of the conventions suggested in style guides are adopted by many poster writers, the final products differ greatly in their visual impact. In this study, we investigated 30 posters created, displayed and peer-evaluated by L2 PhD students at an ecology conference, to identify ways in which visual elements combine with academic language and the organisation of ideas to capture and hold the attention of potential readers. Using criteria that define semiotic force, we analysed (1) the posters that were rated most highly by the conference participants, and (2) a selection of posters that received no positive ratings. We suggest that the interaction of visual, linguistic and organisational elements may have been overlooked or taken for granted by the L1 writers of style guides. Our findings offer insights into the conference poster as a multimodal genre and supplement existing guidelines on creating posters.