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!)


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

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.

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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/


Keeping Data Personal: Big scopes, little people

Every now and again I wonder about whether big data can still be personal. This generally occurs after I get a pop-up on my computer or an up-date on my phone which asks if they can track and use my background data.

But it does get me thinking – I hear a lot about us being in the era of “big data”, with mass data collection all around. Some of this is used to categorise us according to our likes and shopping desires. Some is used to actually better the systems and interfaces we work with.

But I know from my own data collection experiences how easy it is (once everyone’s answers are turned into numbers and categories), to lose sight of what those answers really mean in context to each person, and in turn what this means for your research.

But there are people out there making huge efforts to keep our interfaces, data collection and communications not just individual but personal too. I only recently watched a TED Talk by Aaron Koblin from 2011 called, “Visualizing ourselves… with crowd-sourced data”.Read More »

Book breakdown – “Don’t be such a Scientist” Part 4

The fourth instalment of Dr Randy Olson‘s book explores the trait of “likability” and its place in scientific communication.

“Don’t be so unlikeable”

Even just the title of this chapter made me think – “What does he mean ‘unlikeable’? Is he talking about always agreeing with people? Or trying to look pretty and make friends?” It turns out there’s a bit more to it than that…

To begin with, Olson once again describes the value of scientists as society’s truth tellers, or as the “designated drivers” of reality. Scientists are those who resist getting swept up by fantasy and instead try to take a good hard look at the facts.

Scientists play an important role – there’s no denying it. However the question remains, can you be a scientist and still be liked?

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Crusaders of Science

A recent article by Richard P Grant on why scientists are loosing the communication fight, really struck a chord with me.

Richard comes across as actually saddened by the way in which many scientists attempt to communicate with the public. He points out that most of the people who actively argue and disagree with science are just people. They’re people who want their concerns, fears and needs listened to and taken into account. And instead of doing this, we scientists have the tendency to fight the good fight and defend science at all costs.

This article certainly made me wonder – is the habit of defence so ingrained in all scientists that it’s actually eroding our ability to communicate?

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Book breakdown – “Don’t be such a Scientist” Part 3

Here we cover the third instalment of Dr. Randy Olson‘s book which gets a little deeper into the “arouse and fulfil” tactic of getting people interested in the point you’re trying to make. And although that simple two-step process can work just fine, one way to mix it up is via storytelling…

“Don’t be such a poor storyteller”

By now you may have noticed… many scientists aren’t brilliant storytellers. They can be passionate and big picture oriented, but also long-winded, detail obsessed or even dull. In Hollywood, people study for years to learn how to tell a good story. Scientists study and train for the complete opposite – to always constructively review whatever they are told, and to keep an eye out for any inaccurate details. But to get your information across to a non-academic audience… you have to be able to tell a good story

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