A MethodSpace focus for May was on ways to use visuals to represent key ideas, themes in the data, and results of the study, in qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research and evaluation. Now we’re shifting into a related focus on Creative and Arts-Based Methods.
Graphical abstracts were introduced in a previous post from Dr. Tullio Rossi, founder and director of Animate Your Science. In this post, Flynn Slattery presents examples with critiques that will help you determine what type and style will work for you.
Favorite Graphical Abstracts
(and Why They Are Effective)
Academia has a problem. Seven thousand papers are published every day and let’s face it; no one has the time to read abstract after abstract to find the research that they’re seeking.
Here’s where Graphical Abstracts come in. A graphical abstract is a visual summary of a written abstract, aiming to quickly and clearly convey the key message. Similarly to how a movie poster entices people to watch the movie, a graphical abstract entices people to read your paper. The more eyes on your paper, the more reads, citations and engagement.
Graphical Abstracts (GAs) are becoming common in academic publishing. Many journals allow authors to submit a GA with new manuscripts and some won’t even accept a new submission without them.
However, we feel that most people still don’t know what a graphical abstract should look like and a collection of great looking ones is definitely missing. So, here is a collection of our favourite GAs that we’ve seen so far, in no particular order. We haven’t selected them based on the quality of the research behind them, but rather their aesthetic qualities.
This GA was produced by Fuse Consulting and shows how the survival of porcupines is affected by predators.
Firstly, it has a couple of beautiful illustrations which attract the eyes, so potential readers that are flicking through their twitter feed can quickly understand the topic of the research.
The colour palette uses the natural brown and olive colours from the main illustrations and provides a single light shade of green to highlight the primary data.
Lastly, instead of charts or tables, critical data are presented visually using icons relevant to the subject, helping to convey the quantitative data in a clear and quick way.
Here’s a beautiful GA from the PeerJ journal summarising research on how computer software can recognise features of a healthy reef.
Four different evenly-spaced panels provide a balanced layout that uses lots of negative space, and there is an excellent balance between text and images to get the information across.
Combining illustrations with photos can result in a jarring and inconsistent feel, but this GA seamlessly uses both to great effect by being consistent with colouring and scale.
Lucy Poley (@lucygempoley) has designed several stunning GAs, and we could have chosen any of them to be in our list. We chose this one because we love the illustration of the giant salamander – the little highlights make it look so slimy! What a great way to grab a potential reader’s attention.
The GA consistently uses shades of green which perfectly fit the swamp theme, and a hint of red is a useful contrasting colour.
Passive voice (i.e. X was done, data were collected etc.) is common in science but is boring to read. The text in this GA is written as if the researchers are real people who did some cool stuff, and now you get to learn about it. This is the way it should be!
Here we have a comic-style GA designed by Molly Czachur (@zoologymolly). The comic style is a fun and accessible way to portray research.
By including a caricature of herself in the comic, the reader not only learns what research was done but also who did it. It is also written in the first-person, so it’s an engaging personal story.
The analogy of the ‘puzzle’ is an effective way of visualising the process of matching fish species to the collected DNA samples.
This GA is a nice example of what has become known as a Visual Abstract. This consists of a title at the top with three panels that provide the essential data.
Blue and orange always work well together, and the same two shades of each colour appear consistently throughout the different elements.
Short, clear phrases like ‘Smoking Down’ and ‘Quitting Up’ contextualise that data without weighing the GA down with unnecessary text.
Overall, it’s a very clear and straightforward GA with some crisp images and consistent colours.
The last GA on our list is one of our own. OK, we’re a bit biased here, but we’ve proudly received a lot of great feedback on this one.
We used a comic style to personalise the research on the development of antibiotics against drug-resistant bacteria, and we used some classic scenes from popular James Bond films to create an engaging villain/hero narrative.
The client incorporated this GA into a conference poster. As a wonderful unintended consequence, she was stopped throughout the conference by people recognising her from the GA – so it’s a handy way to stand out from the crowd.
It is time to create your own!
Hope this post convinced you to create a graphical abstract for your next paper. It is packed with useful advice! If you’d like some help or don’t have the time to get to the drawing board get in touch with us. We ❤️graphical abstracts.