It always intrigues me when a figure looks really complicated. And I start to wonder:…
A blog post about what a well-designed graphical abstract can do. More than a text abstract and more than a poorly designed graphical abstract.
1. It arouses curiosity.
A graphical abstract works like an invitation that says: “Look, that’s what this is all about – come closer and stay for a second and third look.”
Our eyes automatically get caught on visuals. They are excellent entry points and can make the difference whether the viewer walks by or takes a closer look at your poster among a hundred other posters (or publications or social media posts).
Like it or not, graphical abstracts grab attention.
2. It provides an overview.
Much more is published than any individual can possibly read. A quick overview is important when deciding whether I want to deal with a publication more in detail.
This quick orientation can be provided by a good graphical abstract as a complement to a text abstract. Even the fastest reader needs more time to read the text than to look at an illustration for the first time. In fractions of a second, the reader recognizes the context such as which model organism was examined or how many different conditions were examined.
Talking about what a good graphical abstract does, the emphasis, however, is on “good”. Only when it is well-designed the reader can extract the main statements of the graphical abstract quickly.
3. It explains.
It helps in understanding. In particular, spatial structures (such as chemical structural formulas) or spatial relationships (such as proportions or localizations, e.g. in cell compartments) can be explained much better in the two dimensions of an image than in a one-dimensional sequence of words.
A visualization is not only helpful for the representation of spatial structures, but also for the representation of abstract concepts. We can quickly and intuitively capture hierarchies, networks or causal relationships in a visualization.
Regardless of whether a visualization explains the abstract or the concrete, it offers an unbeatable advantage over an explanation in words: to put it simply, we can look at all the components of a figure at the same time. Even if we only direct our attention to a partial area, the rest of the figure does not disappear. In contrast, we cannot hold onto the word we have just read – it disappears as soon as we read it. The image, on the other hand, always remains present in its entirety.
4. It sticks in the memory.
Text and image work better together than text alone. Images offer a second, alternative way of accessing the content. This redundant representation in text and images allows viewers to understand the content better and to remember it more easily. Humans are visual animals – without any conscious cognitive effort, we can capture patterns at lightning speed. If these abilities of our visual system are used skillfully, well-structured and easily accessible graphical abstracts are created that stick to the memory.
5. It looks professional.
Science should primarily define itself through the content and not through the looks. However, the following also applies: the first impression counts and is reflected in our overall impression, whether we want it or not. Just as a text full of spelling errors does not look very professional, we also devalue a poorly designed image. That falls back on the science behind it.
Good presentation, on the other hand, enhances science.