Writing and Publishing: Resources for Researchers and Scholars

This guide is brought to you by the Office of Scholarly Communications, where our goal is to help you reach yours.

Catching Attention: Using Visual Abstracts to Promote Your Research

A leading journal just accepted your article for publication. But while your research team is celebrating, you begin to worry. Will the journal’s regular readers notice it?  Will researchers outside your field ever see it?

An eye-catching visual abstract (a.k.a. graphic abstract) can make your article stand out in the crowd. If you want proof, compare Nature, which includes visual abstracts on its contents page, with Science, which doesn’t. Journals in fields ranging from medicine and biology to chemistry and computer science are now inviting – or requiring – authors to supply a visual abstract. Each journal has its own specifications, clearly explained on its website.  Elsevier, one of the world’s largest journal publishers, provides a professional design service for a fee. You may also hire a student in the U of A’s graphic design program.  Contact Professor Maxwell Lane about working with a student freelancer. 

Even if the journal doesn’t require a visual abstract, however, you may want to create one to promote your research through Twitter, Instagram, and other social media.  For inspiring examples from many different disciplines, visit the Twitter site #VisualAbstract.

Andrew M. Ibrahim, who holds a joint appointment in the Department of Surgery and the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan, has a long-standing interest in architectural and graphic design. As Creative Director for the Annals of Surgery, Ibrahim is an advocate of visual abstracts, which he compares to movie trailers. In order to help fellow researchers publicize their work, Ibrahim wrote “A Primer on How to Create a Visual Abstract” which is freely available on A Surgeon's Journey Through Research and Design.  In fewer than 20 pages, he introduces essential design principles and walks through the process of creating your abstract, step-by-step, using a readily-adaptable template. He then offers tips for sharing your abstract on Twitter and tracking responses.  The University Relations Campus Communicator assigned to your college can also assist you.

You have to be creative to attract attention.  A well-designed abstract shared through social media makes your work both more visual and more visible. Go ahead, put your research in the spotlight.

Melody Herr, PhD

Head, Office of Scholarly Communications

October 2017