Let’s talk “Graphical Abstracts”

If you’re a scientist, and have had something published recently, chances are you’ve come across this option when uploading your final reviewed, edited and approved copy of your manuscript:

uplaoding graphical abstract to journal websiteFor many of us, reaching this point in the submission of your paper and then realising that you don’t have a graphical abstract ready is just a pain you don’t need. By the end we often don’t have the time or energy left to deal creatively with thinking up yet another way to explain our research.

But hear me out. I want to help you understand the benefit of a good graphical abstract, why you should consider putting the extra effort in to create one, and a few tips on how to go about it.

First step – what exactly IS a “graphical abstract”?

According to Elsevier, a graphical abstract is a, “single, concise, pictorial and visual summary of the main findings of the article“… now before you fall asleep, they go on to explain that a graphical abstract, “should allow readers to quickly gain an understanding of the main take-home message of the paper“.

I want to take this definition a little further and add some “movement” to it. What about, “Graphical abstracts are a concise, colourful and engaging visual explanation of the take-home message of the paper”. At least then we can get a bit more excited about them!

What is the benefit of a good graphical abstract?

You have probably read before about the value of disseminating your research or scientific paper into a few different ways to help target different audiences. A colourful and visual explanation of your work can help attract interest from people who might not normally understand or care. Think less about targeting other scientists and more about targeting everyday people.

A good graphical abstract can stand alone as an engaging explanation or it can be paired with other written explanations – blog posts, newspaper articles, updates on your university website, as the star figure on your conference poster etc.

When it comes to social media, a graphical abstract looks way more interesting and is likely to encourage people to “click” more than a simple web-link on different platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Reddit or Mendeley. For example below, the first Twitter post (no image – not so fun), compared with the second Twitter post (way cooler! & colourful!)

example-of-twitter-link-no-image.pngexample-of-twitter-link-with-image.png

And one final benefit is that your family might finally understand what your research is all about. I showed a couple of my graphical abstracts to some of my family and they went, “Oh THAT’s what you’re working on!”.

How to CREATE a graphical abstract

If you have a little bit of time and creativity and are keen to give creating your own graphical abstract a go – then here are some basic tips.

Tip 1: You don’t need fancy design software. If you already have fancy software and know how to use it, that’s awesome. But if you don’t – don’t worry. I personally use “PowerPoint” to create mine, but you can also try using Word, Publisher or any of your built-in basic drawing software. If you can create different shapes, pick your own colours and add text – you’re golden.

Tip 2: Decide on the simple underlying “story” of your paper. This usually takes me a few goes to get right down to the most important thing to communicate. Go wild – scribble out your ideas on real paper. That way you can scrunch or rip it up satisfyingly when you want to try another way. If stuck try starting with the traditional opening story line, “Once upon a time, in a lab / field / office far away…”

Think of 4 or 5 main points – one sentence each. You’re telling a super short story.
This means simple language (no jargon and no acronyms).

Point 1 = The “big picture” where does your research fit in the world?
Point 2 = What is the question, issue, challenge or problem to overcome?
Point 3 = Your key results or findings. (short & simple)
Point 4 = What do these results or findings mean? What is the impact? How will it help or change things?

Tip 3: Pick only a few (2 or 3 or 4) colours and stick with them. You don’t want to overload on the colours – no rainbow spectrum (unless you’re studying light or lasers or something cool like that). Think either “complementary” colours – colours that work well together. Or you could try picking contrasting colours – colours that really stand out against one another. It’s also worth considering different text colours and fonts.

Examples of colour combinations

Tip 4: Keep your layout simple – think almost comic book style. Try some basic layout shapes like these below, or layer different shapes and then crop to your outline.

Examples of simple layouts

Tip 5: Add visuals which help support your “story”. Use drawing / cartoon style images where possible. If you can draw some of the figures yourself that’s great! Maybe you have a touch-screen laptop or app and can draw them right onto the screen. Or you could even draw them on paper and take a photo. Then email the photo or upload it onto your computer and use the “Remove background” or “Set transparent colour” function in Microsoft Word to get rid of the background.

You can also try using this cool free online software “Autodraw”. You scribble the shape or picture you want and the software uses machine learning to translate your scribble into a proper shape or line image. You can layer shapes and images to make whatever you like and then download the result.

Tip 6: Don’t forget to add the appropriate licensing to your graphical abstract. Follow this link to learn more about the different symbols for “creative commons” etc. I use these symbols on my own graphical abstracts:

Creative commons licensing symbols


This was my first graphical abstract. I wanted a simple way to convey some of the complexity of measuring water use in urban food gardens and the contribution my work made to the field.

Graphical abstract

I used 3 main colours with the darker colour on the bottom to help add perspective. I used orange as a contrast colour. And I split the middle panel as I wanted to show the separate diversity of “watering gardens” on one side and “producing food” on the other side.


But what if I don’t have the time / motivation / creativity to make my own graphical abstract?

Well that’s okay too because there are a few people out there who are more than happy to help create a graphical abstract for you. Their styles, processes and prices vary a little but here are a couple of options:

I also highly recommend looking up these brilliant science communicators and graphical artists on Twitter, they too may be able to help you out:

And there you go – I hope this has inspired you to give making your own graphical abstract a go. It is very satisfying to view your published article on the Journal website and have your colourful graphical abstract appear front and centre.

Good luck!

 

Open-access Research 2018 – Diversity & Sustainability

I may have mentioned previously that my PhD approach is to complete a “Thesis containing published material” (AKA Thesis by Publication). I am now 7 weeks away from running out of time and money to submit my thesis. On the plus side, many of my chapters have already been written – as papers. On the downside it’s now crunch time and I am one paper short of my 5 planned papers: 2 are published, 1 is under review, 1 is ready to submit. The 5th one remains not yet written as it will present ALL the results from the collected garden data. But this is beside the point of this blog post which was meant to be all about my 3rd PhD paper – published in March 2018. (How it got from March to now without me realising I will never know!)

So here it is! It’s titled, “Typically Diverse: The Nature of Urban Agriculture in South Australia“. This paper presents results from the Edible Gardens Project and reveals the incredible diversity that is inherent in the production methods, water sources, irrigation methods, sizes, labour, and costs of urban home food gardens in South Australia.

To read or share the full article, follow this link: Pollard, Georgia; Ward, James and Roetman, Philip. “Typically Diverse: The Nature of Urban Agriculture in South Australia”. Sustainability (2018).

In the paper we ask (and even answer) questions such as,

  • How are people currently growing food in urban areas? What methods or approaches are they using?
  • Are there relationships between particular production methods?
  • What challenges do urban gardeners face?
  • Do the challenges gardeners face when just starting out differ from the challenges they face further on?
  • How much money do people spend setting up their food gardens? What about their monthly costs?
  • Do urban food gardeners want to save money? And do they believe they succeed in doing so?
  • How does an ‘optimised garden model’ compare to people’s real food gardens?
  • What does the “typical” home food garden look like? (I’ll give you a clue… it looks a bit like the featured image!)
  • What are the implications for the economic sustainability of home food gardens? Are they accessible to everyone?

If you’re interested in finding out about any of these questions – take a look at the full paper. It’s open-access so anyone can read, download and share it with others.

Happy reading!

Georgia, the Urban Ag. Scientist

CitSciOz18 in Adelaide: Excitement, highlights & presentations

I have never seen such a colourful bunch of scientists as those who attended this years Citizen Science Conference in Adelaide. It was fantastic!

I sat and listened to stories of all different kinds of citizen science projects – from global projects on migratory species to tiny local projects based in small rural regions. The CitSciOz18 conference went for three days from February 7th to 9th. There were visiting scientists from interstate and overseas and everyone had something to share – some new perspective to add to our collective conversations.

Some of the highlights for me were:

  • “Where are the Millennials?” by Margot Law & Ellie Downing.
    These ladies were high energy and rocked their interactive workshop about how to engage more millennials (and how they really aren’t that scary). They explained that when it comes to citizen science – you just have to give a bit of thought to what drives them (e.g. wanting to do good, a strong engagement with causes, activities that interest them AND represent values, or projects which consider issues such as: basic human rights, education, the environment, gender equality, financial matters/employment or climate change).
  • From Peter Brenton we heard all about the Atlas of Living Australia and BioCollect.
    BioCollect is an impressive data collection and support platform particularly suited to field data capture for citizen science projects and it’s free for public use! If you’re hunting for the right support platform for your project (instead of going to all the cost and effort of building your own like I did) then I strongly recommend BioCollect. Later, Peter also spoke about the value of data beyond the life of your project, and what options there are for storage and enabling of external data use.
  • Cass Davis spoke about the project RiverScan and ‘How Citizen Science is helping us improve native fish populations’.
    Riverscan is a Victorian based citizen science project monitoring creek and river conditions. Besides the amazing project impacts, what I was really taken with was the attention to detail put into the engagement of their citizen scientists and their results reports. We were shown a map of the monitored rivers with all the data collection points given a simple colour coded score for the 3 separate indicators (green, yellow or orange). They also had different levels of accreditation/achievement given to their volunteers – bandannas in different prints and colours to symbolise how long you had been collecting data. Very clever.

Read on for some great citizen science project tips from the great Kylie Andrews, and to watch the presentation I gave ( I promise it’s a good slideshow 😉 ).

Read More »

Talking about the elephant in the room: Mental health and learning how to share your story

There were nine of us sitting there around a big table, nervously shuffling papers and preparing to share our own stories of mental ill-health. Where were we? What were we doing? Why were we drawing on all our courage to tell others vulnerable details of our own experiences and journeys?

Well, we were at a BATYR ‘Being Herd’ workshop.
And we were prepared.

We were there because each one of us wanted to learn how to tell our story – to tell our story in a structured way that connected with others without emotionally swamping them. We had the reassuring presence of Sam & Tom, our workshop facilitators and Amy – our support person.

“Who’s ready to share next? You have 10 minutes and we’re all ready to listen.”

I took a deep breath in and out, then raised my hand. I looked at my notes, and started to speak…

From the Batyr workshop we learnt practical elements of storying telling around mental health. Things like,

  1. Begin with you – what you’re like and what you enjoy.
    Add a little background context – your family, your up-bringing.
  2. What you experienced: how did it begin? What did you notice first? What did others notice (or not notice about you?). Was it an ongoing issue? Describe how it felt – moments in time. Be careful not to generalise, use “I” and “for me”. Everyone experiences everything differently. No one experience is more “real” or more “valid”. (Depending on who you’re talking to – leave out specific methods of any kind of harm and focus instead on the feelings.)
  3. Turning points & support – there may have been one or there may have been many. How did you know you needed to reach out for support? What support did you seek out? What has worked and what hasn’t worked for you? (This is where you can go into detail).
  4. Where are you now in your journey? What is the key message you want to share with others who may be struggling? What do you do today to manage your wellbeing? (For example, being in nature)

What about for those of us who think a friend or someone we know might being going through a tough time?

Read More »

Open-Access Research from 2017: Aquaponics in… Urban Planning?

The first open-access article I, along with Dr James Ward and Dr Barbara Koth published in 2017 was called, “Aquaponics in Urban Agriculture: Social Acceptance and Urban Food Planning”. It’s about the perception and social acceptance of aquaponics by urban food growers and Local Government Area in Adelaide, South Australia. A considerable amount of research has been conducted on the technology itself, but little has been done on how people (other than those who actually have such systems) feel about aquaponics. Additionally, the level of awareness and acceptance of local councils (in South Australia known as local government areas or LGAs) can influence either the support or restriction of aquaponics in urban areas.

Collectively our participants not only considered the various strengths and weaknesses of aquaponics, but also used their own experiences to recommend ideas for the possible adoption and expansion of aquaponics. These recommendations culminated in the idea of a set of scaled guidelines, including financial, logistical, resource requirements, and expected productivity for each potential scale of operation – from single backyard to large-scale commercial.

When the discussion moved to urban planning and the influence of local government areas, every participant alluded to a lack of council support for urban food production. There was a strong desire for a shift in current urban planning and that of state level government to better acknowledge and support urban food production of all kinds.

To read or share the full article, follow this link: Pollard, Georgia, James D Ward, and Barbara Koth. “Aquaponics in Urban Agriculture: Social Acceptance and Urban Food Planning.” Horticulturae 3, no. 2 (2017): 39.

But what is aquaponics?

Read More »

Open-access Research from 2017: Citizen Science

It just so happens that 2017 was a good year for writing; I (along with my co-authors), had my first two scientific articles published. Both are open-access and are therefore available for anyone, anywhere in the world to read – no subscription necessary. Publishing articles as open-access may cost more and require a little more ‘hoop-jumping’, yet it is a valuable method of science communication (particularly suited to citizen science).

Hence myself, along with my supervisors Dr James Ward and Dr Philip Roetman wrote a paper called, “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research”. It’s about the practical challenges of researching urban food production, how past studies have gone about researching urban food yields and inputs, and how effective a citizen science approach can be. We describe the design of the “Edible Gardens Project” as an example of how citizen science can be successfully applied to urban agriculture research.

To read or share the full article, follow this link: Pollard, Georgia, Philip Roetman, and James Ward. “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research.” Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture and Society 5, no. 3 (2017): 9-20.

Read More »

Long grass at the bottom of outdoor stairs

5 Ways to Wellbeing in Nature

A little while ago I was asked if I wouldn’t mind talking about what “Keep Learning” means to me. It was for the new South Australian ‘Healthy Parks, Healthy People’ initiative about 5 Ways to Wellbeing in Nature. This clip is the result.

I really like the gentleness of the clip and the stories. Instead of being told that the only valuable way to live is to rush and get lots of things done all the time – this initiative encourages people to:

Connect: Make time for people and enjoy the world around you.
Be Active: Move your body. Breathe in the fresh air.
Take Notice: Find a moment to take in the beauty of nature.
Keep Learning: Be curious about nature and discover something new.
Give: Do something nice for someone. Do something nice for the environment.

Enjoy some time in nature.

Improv. and Science. The odd couple… or a match made in heaven?

In a royally decorated room of the Science Exchange in Adelaide (complete with red carpet, wood panelling and throne-like chairs in the corner), there we awkwardly stood,  30 people in a circle, nervous and fidgeting. We were ready to brave Improv!

This winter, the Royal Institute of Australia (RiAUS) hosted an Improv night specifically geared towards helping scientists, scientists-in-the-making, and other communicators improve their communication skills by diving into a bit of Improvisation.

Dain and Jarred, from OnTheFly Improv (http://www.ontheflyimpro.com) ran the session. They cracked jokes, moved us around and generally reminded us to “keep breathing”. They were wonderful. With my heightened nervous senses, our two-hour session flew by. There were games, mind tricks, advice on stance – all things to could help us to overcome our natural reluctance to blurt out whatever comes first to mind, and instead to trust ourselves. Even in a simple word association game, it was hard not to second guess your answer!

Dain and Jarred also gave us some very practical advice for presenting

Read More »

My first guest blog, “Being BOLD and Taking Responsibility” at the LFIA’s Adelaide forum

I recently attended an Adelaide based forum on “Building Nutrition”, held by the Living Future Institute of Australia (LFIA). It was fascinating to say the least. Afterwards I was contacted and asked if I was interested in writing a guest blog on the forum experience – and of course said “Yes!”

Here’s how it starts…

“There are times when you hear about real people taking small steady steps toward achieving their goals and making changes. You listen with a sense of satisfaction, the changes might not be huge but at least they’re happening. This is how most change comes about, “green” or not.

Then there are times when this slowness of pace gets to you a little… You begin to hanker for some mountainous shift in the ways things work, some outrageous plan or project or people just getting on with things – regardless of apparent restrictions. For me, these are the moments that make all the small steps and the consistent effort worthwhile. And it doesn’t have to be something I’m personally involved in, I’ll accept inspiration from anywhere!

This is where the latest Adelaide Forum from the Living Future Institute of Australia (LFIA) comes into the story…”

Follow the link to read more on the LFIA website: https://living-future.org.au/blog/

 

A Guest Lecture on Urban Agriculture

Last week I gave my first ever guest lecture for a UniSA course called “Environment: A Human Perspective”. There were about 50-60 first year students present and my nerves came on strong at the beginning. But I made it through, and listening back I think I managed to get my passion and enthusiasm for urban agriculture across to the students –  I even made them laugh couple of times!… intentionally, of course.

Part #1 of the lecture covered the basics of urban agriculture (UA), some of its differences around the world and how common it is in South Australia.

In Part #2 (which is still being edited) I describe how there is more to UA than simply the productive side (how much food people can grow) – there is also a strong social value side. In the middle there’s some interaction where I ask the students what it takes to grow food from start to finish, and how this in turn influences your research design.

I mention both my honours research on the social reaction of people to aquaponics, in addition to how some of the local councils react to the idea of aquaponics. And finished up with a little on my PhD research on the productive capacity and social value of UA via the Edible Gardens Project.

I know there are a couple a little rough moments in here. But I would still love to get any feedback you may have.

Enjoy!
Georgia the Urban Ag. Scientist