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 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?

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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/

 

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

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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Project Launch!

After almost two years of planning, I am utterly excited to introduce you all to the Edible Gardens project!disc_edible-gardens-logo-small

Many people across Australia grow some of their own food. In fact in South Australia, 59% of households do so (Wise, 2014). As most of us now live in urban areas, this food production is taking place in cities, towns and suburbs. Urban agriculture is any form of urban food production from growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, to even keeping urban livestock such as chickens, fish or bees

Have you ever wondered how much food your garden actually produces each year? Or how much water, time and money went into producing that food? The Edible Gardens project wants to find out.

The project is currently open to all South Australian home, community and school gardeners. Feel free to share this with anyone you know living in South Australia who produces urban food.

combined-ua-pic-3bRead More »

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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Confronting the 3 Minute Thesis

I finally sat down after the first School of NBE round of the 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) and thought, “Well I tried but I don’t think I’m getting through.”

This was because I have never been so overwhelmingly nervous during a presentation ever before in my life. At one point I even remember thinking, “If I just lie down right here on the ground… will everyone just go away and leave me alone?”

So thank goodness I did better than I thought I did.

The 3MT was developed by the University of Queensland and has been running since 2008. It’s a deceptively simple concept:

Can you take your 4 (or 5 or 6 or even 7 years!) of PhD research and explain it to a non-expert audience in under 3 minutes? Oh and you’re only allowed one slide behind you, with no moving parts or sounds. Sounds like a reasonable challenge yes?

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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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A WISE Event: All the Career Possibilities

One brisk Monday night, a large roomful of women gathered in the silver mirrored SAHMRI building to hear from three amazing women / successful scientists who have trodden a wide range of career pathways and ended up in jobs very different to those they first imagined.

The first speaker was Dr Kate Gridley, now a Research Coordinator in the Division of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia. Check out Dr Gridley’s homepage at – http://people.unisa.edu.au/Kate.Gridley

Dr Gridley started with showing us the difference between her assumed career path once she had finished studying, to the path she actually took – winding in and out of different positions.

The jump from hands on PhD research, to a more administerial position required a serious effort in translation. Mostly, the translation of all the skills Dr Gridley had honed during her PhD to be shown as applicable and valuable skills for non-research work. She spoke of learning to, “sell myself as an asset…” and, “remaining open to any options”.

Dr Gridley finished with asking us, the audience, to think more about our future career and to practice selling ourselves and our skills as transferable to any position.

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