Draw a Pair of Wings for Your Publication

Ancient Book Pages with Birds Flying Away

(downloaded from Dreamstime, click on the figure to be directed to the original source)

Publishing a manuscript always tends to be a painful process for most graduate students. We put well-tailored figures and organized tables in a manuscript together with years of effort, survive several rounds of reviewing process, and in the end receive an email starting with “Congratulations! You manuscript is accepted for publication on …”. At that moment, you must feel like a rising star in this field, yet this daydream is easily crashed when Google Scholar and Researchgate tell you that very few people read your “intriguing” 10-page paper over the past year with zero citation. You start questioning yourself, does your years of research actually benefit the whole community?

Internet gives us easy access to tons of research papers, but access alone does not grant efficient learning. Let’s start with a simple experiment: Download several research papers outside your own field, and I’m sure you can barely make it to the third paper, letting alone remember the major points. Most of the publication in academia are full of jargon (yours too!) and detailed technical processes (even in abstract and keywords), building up a impassable wall between a specific scientific community with the general public. You can imagine the frustration of newcomers in one field, especially undergraduate students, when reading these barely understandable words. At the end of day, our learner-unfriendly publication seems to achieve anything but publicizing our findings effectively.

Guess what? Nobody understand your abstracts!

(click on the figure to be directed to the original source)

How can we possibly change this difficult situation? Recently, most of the journals encourage or even require authors to submit a graphical abstract along with the manuscript. Successful graphical abstract provides a great visual presentation of your current work, which can quickly attract people’s attention within seconds. Readers can easily grasp the fundamental points and broader impact from your work without reading your whole paper. Through this way, the initial screening and skimming processes on the Internet become a enjoyable treasure hunt, significantly enhancing the learning efficiency.

From the researcher’s perspective, creating a graphical abstract is also a refreshing learning process. Graphical abstract abandon the fixed pattern from “Introduction” to “Reference”, and you just need to find a quite place and totally set your mind free! Whether you are an old-fashioned person into colored pencils or computer geek playing with AutoCAD, you can use your own unique way (for example, using avatars from computer games or cartoon) to deliver the most important information embedded in your paper. Once completed, I believe you will have some new understanding or interpretation towards your current work. Besides, the graphical abstract can be further used on digital platforms such as social media and PPT slides for oral presentations (recyclable).1

The process of creating a graphical abstract reminds me of one previous app (Draw Something) on the cellphone. It is so much fun!

Who says only artists can have their portfolio, we scientists and engineers can have amazing taste of art too! Draw a pair of wings and paint them with your imagination, and they will make your publication fly across the land and ocean.



  1. How to make a good graphical abstract. http://bitesizebio.com/31125/how-to-make-a-good-graphical-abstract/

6 Comments on “Draw a Pair of Wings for Your Publication

  1. Thanks for the nice post. I can see you point because many times a great graphic abstract just attracts me and makes me keep reading the rest of the paper. As a researcher, everyone wants their paper to be published and read by others. With the increase of number of paper being accepted every year, an attractive title/ graphic abstract is something makes people click on your paper to learn more details. I wish I am more talented in drawing so my graphic abstract will be more appealing.

  2. I really like that you raise the idea of getting your audience better understand your work through simplifying in a form of graphic. I have experienced this in presentations where the speaker doesn’t necessarily simply introduce the topic which the audience are not familiar with. Yet in this case, the audience do end up sitting for the entire presentation in contrast to the choice of moving on to another paper.

  3. Ten years ago, I thought the greater the work is, the fewer people can understand it. Now I believe, there is no point to try to understand the work that is not well written. The time I invested on reading the paper may not worth the information that I gained from the paper.

  4. Great post. The first image reminds me of a quote from Khalil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’: “For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words can indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly”. Science requires thought, derives from thought. But is the way we structure academic writing actually inhibiting the ability of those thoughts to fly freely and inspire other scientists and other citizens? Pictures and graphical abstracts seems to be a step in the right direction, however it depends a bit on how the reader best digests information. We constrain our thoughts just by having to articulate and communicate them, whether through words or through pictures, but I think you are right in asserting that we must all be a bit more ambitious and creative in making sure our ideas can resonate with people from any field and any background.

  5. “Who says only artists can have their portfolio, we scientists and engineers can have amazing taste of art too! ”

    There are more students than scientists and engineers here in GEDI class 😉 — some of us in the philosophically oriented disciplines may even do work that challenges the presumption that scholarship can be transformed into infographics. Images are more readily accessible to online audiences with limited attention spans, but it doesn’t always work. Image creation, like gamification, can be a way to avoid the most painful — but rewarding — part of learning.

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