Currently, several journals, especially related to medical/health-care sciences, are increasingly requesting the submission of a “graphical” or “visual abstract” alongside the body of the article. A graphical abstract (GA) or also known as a visual abstract is a graphical or visual representation that is equivalent to that of a written abstract.[2,3] GAs are a single image or flowchart or table and are designed to help the reader quickly gain an overview of a scholarly paper, research article, thesis, or review: And to quickly ascertain the purpose and results of a given research, as well as the salient details of authors and journal. GAs are intended to help facilitate online browsing, as well as help readers quickly identify which articles are relevant to their research interests. Like a video abstract, they are not intended to replace the original research article, but to help draw attention to it, thereby increasing its readership.
GAs are a relatively new concept to the broader scientific community, hence, there is no ubiquitous standard or style of formatting. Nevertheless, several distinct styles have emerged, which are largely a reflection of the intended audience.
The field of chemistry has primarily utilized diagrams since the mid to late 1970s as a form of GA due to the visual nature of the field. This type of GA is usually produced by the researchers themselves with the intended audience being other researchers who are already very familiar with the topic, usually using highly technical language and abbreviations with no background context.
The visual abstract is also a type of GA which was first introduced in June 2016 by Annals of Surgery's Creative Editor Andrew Ibrahim. Visual abstracts have been developed with a consistent formatting style in mind and are intended to be produced rapidly and easily by the researcher, using Microsoft PowerPoint — though professionally designed visual abstracts do exist. The general format consists of a title, followed by one (or multiple) key findings, each with a text description and a visual icon, supported by data. As of today, visual abstracts have been used exclusively by medical journals. The use of visual abstracts has been shown to increase overall engagement on social media, particularly among health-care professionals.
In these abstracts, both text and graphics are used together in a visually appealing way. These abstracts were among the first to gain popularity in early 2015–2016, appearing in academic journals such as Peer J[9,10] and Elsevier.[11,12] These abstracts are usually made with advanced illustrating software and are, therefore, usually professionally produced. The intended audience is not limited to any particular level of research training and can be aimed at expert researchers or the general public. Given their emphasis on well-presented graphics, this style is usually intended to engage a broader reading audience than expert researchers.
This kind of abstract is the most accessible form of GA. This style uses humor and illustrations to convey the research findings in a fun and more light-hearted way. It is, therefore, a popular style when aiming to engage the largest public audience.
Instructions to Create a Graphical Abstract
Authors should always provide an original image that clearly represents the work described in the article. GAs should be submitted as a separate file in the submission system by selecting “GAs” from the drop-down list when uploading files. It is very important that each GA should be unique.
The GA should have a clear start and end, preferably “reading” from top to bottom or left to right, for ease of browsing. Distracting and cluttering elements need to be reduced as far as possible.
- Image size: One should provide an image with a minimum of 1328 × 531 pixels (w × h) using a minimum resolution of 300 dpi. If the image is large, the same ratio (500 wide × 200 high) should be used. One needs to note that the image will be scaled proportionally to fit in the available window on ScienceDirect: A 500 × 200-pixel rectangle
- Font: It is better to use Times, Arial, Courier, or Symbol with a large enough font size as the image will be reduced in size for the table of contents to fit a window 200 pixels high
- File type: Preferred file types are Tag image file format, Encapsulated PostScript, Portable Document Format, or MS Office files
- No additional text, outline, or synopsis should be included. Any text or label must be part of the image file. One must not use unnecessary white space or the heading “GA” within the image file.
Graphical Abstracts bring more Visibility
A GA represents a piece of artwork. It is intended to summarize the main findings of an article for readers at a single glance [Figure 1]. It should allow readers to quickly gain an understanding of the take-home message of the article and is intended to encourage browsing, promote interdisciplinary scholarship, and help readers identify more quickly which articles are most relevant to their research interests. Research has clearly shown that articles which have GAs are beneficial both in terms of views of the article as well as increased activity on social media. In particular, the average annual use of an article is doubled when compared with those without a visual abstract. Chapman etal. assessed the role of plain English abstracts disseminated through social media in engaging patients and clinicians in the communication of surgical research. Manuscripts accepted for publication in British Journal of Surgery (BJS) were allocated to one of three arms and disseminated through Twitter: Plain English abstracts, visual abstracts, and standard tweets. The primary outcome was online engagement (a composite of tweets, replies, and likes) by members of the public within 14 days. The secondary outcome was online engagement by health-care professionals. Overall, visual abstracts attracted a significantly greater number of engagements than plain English ones (P < 0·001).
Great American educator Edgar Dale and other expert developers of the “Cone of Learning,” theorized that we retain 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, and 30% of what we see. There is increasing agreement among scientists that visual experiences with icons, forms, shapes, signs, numbers, and colors enhance our ability to remember information better than conventional scientific abstracts. The aim of any visual abstract is to transform scientific information to a visual format that can promptly be distributed on social media. In a recent study, Twitter impressions increased 7.7-fold when a visual abstract was tweeted, in addition to the article title, and tweeting the visual abstract increased article visits from 65.5 to 175.4 visits on average. In the current era of digital information, when social networks such as Instagram and Snapchat are based exclusively on images, readers of medical journals are also eager to absorb new scientific messages more rapidly by viewing images.
A sample of the GA is shown as a reference.
2. Pferschy-Wenzig EM, Pferschy U, Wang D, Mocan A, Atanasov AG. Does a graphical abstract bring more visibility to your paper? Molecules. 2016;21:1247.
3. Last accessed on 2023 Jan 27 Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphical_abstract
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5. Editorial of Nature Chemistry. . The art of abstracts Nature Chemistry. 2011;3:571.
6. Gloviczki P, Lawrence PF. Visual abstracts bring key message of scientific research J Vasc Surg. 2018;67:1319–20
7. Fabio A. Visual Abstracts to Disseminate Research on Twitter: A Quantitative Analysis 2018
8. Chapman SJ, Grossman RC, FitzPatrick ME, Brady RR. Randomized controlled trial of plain English and visual abstracts for disseminating surgical research via social media Br J Surg. 2019;106:1611–6
9. Atanasov AG, Zotchev SB, Dirsch VM, Supuran CT. Natural products in drug discovery: advances and opportunities Nature reviews Drug discovery. 2021;20:200–16
10. Meadow JF, Altrichter AE, Bateman AC, Stenson J, Brown GZ, Green JL, et al Humans differ in their personal microbial cloud PeerJ. 2015;3:e1258.
11. Chaya K, Xue Y, Uto Y, Yao Q, Yamada Y. Fear of eyes: Triadic relation among social anxiety, trypophobia, and discomfort for eye cluster PeerJ. 2016;4:e1942.
12. Zhou Y, Asplund L, Yin G, Athanassiadis I, Wideqvist U, Bignert A, et al Extensive organohalogen contamination in wildlife from a site in the Yangtze River Delta Sci Total Environ. 2016:320–555–8:554–555–8
13. Kovalchick A, Dawson K. Education and Technology: An Encyclopedia 2004 Santa Barbara, CA ABC-CLIO:161
14. Ibrahim AM, Lillemoe KD, Klingensmith ME, Dimick JB. Visual abstracts to disseminate research on social media: A prospective, case-control crossover study Ann Surg. 2017;266:e46–8
15. Nerli RB, Chandra S, Rai S, Dixit NS. Grafted tubularised incised plate: A right option in the management of failed mid-penile and distal hypospadias 2023