5 Tips for Creating a Graphical Abstract

What is a graphical abstract?

A graphical abstract is a visual representation or summary of the main findings or key points of a research article. It is typically an image or diagram that highlights the most important aspects of the study. This allows readers to quickly understand the main conclusions of the research without having to read the entire paper.

Graphical abstracts are often placed at the beginning of an article or included in the abstract section. They serve as a visual aid to attract attention and provide a snapshot of the study's content. By presenting key findings in a visually appealing and concise manner, graphical abstracts enhance the accessibility and understanding of the research.

Graphical abstracts can take various forms depending on the field of study and the preferences of the journal or publication. They may include illustrations, diagrams, graphs, or photographs to convey information. The content of a graphical abstract can include research objectives, methodology, key results, major conclusions, and implications of the study.

It is important to note that graphical abstracts differ from visual abstracts in some ways. In general, visual abstracts are more table-like and show the numerical results of a study. These are often included in clinical studies. Graphical abstracts are a pictorial representation of a study's results, similar to an infographic.

Overall, graphical abstracts serve as a powerful tool to summarize complex research and communicate its significance to a broader audience.

What is the purpose of a graphical abstract?

Graphical abstracts are designed to catch the reader's attention and pique their interest in the research. By presenting visually appealing and eye-catching images or diagrams, graphical abstracts can draw readers into the article and encourage them to read further. A recent study found that the yearly average use of an article is doubled when compared with those without a graphical abstract.

By providing a visual overview, graphical abstracts make scientific research more accessible to a broader audience. They can be particularly useful for non-experts, students, or researchers from other fields who may not have in-depth knowledge of the subject matter. Graphical abstracts allow readers to understand the main points of the study without requiring specialized expertise.

Additionally, graphical abstracts can be shared independently of the full article on various platforms such as conference posters, social media, or journal websites. They serve as a promotional tool to attract attention and generate interest in the research, potentially leading to increased visibility and citations.

Five tips for creating an effective graphical abstract

1. Focus on key messages

Research is exciting, and it is natural to want to include all the findings of your study. However, it is important to identify the main messages or key findings of your research and prioritize them in your graphical abstract. Keep it concise and avoid overwhelming the audience with too much data or too many images. Choose the most important elements that effectively convey the main points of your study.

2. Focus on visual elements

Visual elements such as illustrations, diagrams, graphs, or photographs can greatly enhance the impact of your graphical abstract. Select visuals that are clear, relevant, and visually appealing. Use colors, shapes, and fonts strategically to create a cohesive and engaging design. Overwhelming the reader with too much text is not effective. Therefore, take your time to create graphics that illustrate your main points.

3. Keep it simple!

Simplify complex concepts or data into easily understandable visuals. Avoid excessive text or details that may confuse or distract the reader. Aim for a clean and streamlined design that highlights the main points without unnecessary clutter. Graphical abstracts may be shared with the general public via social media or journal websites. Therefore, it is important that the general population can understand the main points of your study.

5 tips for research collaboration

4. Maintain consistency

Ensure consistency in style, color scheme, and overall design with the rest of your research article or paper. This helps create a cohesive and professional look, making it easier for readers to associate the graphical abstract with the main content. Graphical abstracts with too many colors or multiple fonts can look messy and unorganized. This can confuse and overwhelm readers and they may overlook the main points of your research. 

5. Adhere to journal guidelines

Most journals have specific requirements for graphical abstracts and images. Journals aim to maintain a consistent look and feel across their articles, including graphical abstracts. By providing guidelines, they ensure that the graphical abstracts submitted by authors align with the journal's overall style and branding. Consistency in design elements helps readers easily recognize and associate the graphical abstract with the specific journal. Additionally, journals optimize their images for print or online publication. Therefore it is important to follow their guidelines regarding resolution, image size, etc. 

Example of a graphical abstract

Below is an example of a successful graphical abstract. In this abstract, a strict color scheme is used (blue, red, and white, with black text). The text is minimal, and the use of arrows guide the reader to the main results of the study.

graphical abstract example

Abstract created by Kerry Stricker, American Journal Experts
Study: Zettel Nalen, Catherine M., et al. "Oviposition substrate selection by Florida mosquitoes in response to pathogen‐infected conspecific larvae." Journal of Vector Ecology 38.1 (2013): 182-187.

Some additional examples of graphical abstracts can be found at this link.

Assistance with graphical abstracts

You may be thinking, “This all sounds great, but I am not familiar with creating electronic graphics”. That’s okay! 

There are several options available to you. Some journals will create a graphical abstract for you after your manuscript has been accepted for publication. For those that don’t, you can use a graphical abstract service, such as the custom illustration service provided by AJE. Some institutions, such as universities, offer in-house graphic design, or you can hire a freelance graphic designer to fit your needs.

Remember, regardless of the method you choose, it's important to provide the person creating the graphical abstract with a clear understanding of your research, key messages, and any specific requirements from the journal. Effective communication and collaboration will help ensure that the graphical abstract accurately represents your research and meets your expectations.

Final thoughts

Before finalizing your graphical abstract, test it for clarity and impact. Share it with colleagues or peers and gather feedback on its effectiveness in conveying the main messages of your research. Make revisions if necessary to improve clarity, readability, and overall visual impact.

Remember, the goal of a graphical abstract is to provide a clear and concise visual summary of your research. Keeping it focused, visually appealing, and easy to understand is key.


 About the author

Catherine Zettel Nalen

Catherine Zettel Nalen is currently an Academic Editor - Operations Specialist and Journal Recommendation Team Lead at Research Square Company, helping researchers around the world communicate and disseminate their research findings. She is a formally trained Medical/Veterinary Entomologist with experience in infectious disease epidemiology. She previously worked for the United States Department of Agriculture conducting vector-borne disease research, as well as in applied public health, serving as a Vector Entomologist, Environmental Health Director, and Public Health Emergency Preparedness Specialist.

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