Creating visual abstracts to promote your research: A how-to guide
Denzel Zhu1, Alex Sankin, MD1,2
- Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY
- Department of Urology, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, NY
Social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) are platforms heavily used by medical professionals, and the lay public, to communicate and share results from research studies. Visual abstracts, which are visual representations of research articles, are visually engaging and concise ways of sharing the results of studies on social media. The use of visual abstracts to promote research, as measured by impressions on Twitter, has been shown to dramatically increase the numbers of individuals who review and learn about the research. 1,2 However, there are few guidelines on creating effective visual abstracts. Our goal here is to provide guidance on creating an effective visual abstract, based on our past experience. 3
We used Microsoft PowerPoint v16.64 (Microsoft, Redmond, WA)’s default slide size of 16:9 (Widescreen) to create our abstract. In general, we divide the slide into three major sections: the header (where the journal logo and visual abstract title go), the body of the abstract (where the study’s methodology, exposure, and outcomes are listed), and the footer (where the study’s conclusion, citation, and abstract author’s byline and contact information are listed, as well as institutional logos from the author’s institution; Figure 1).
Figure 1. Structure of the visual abstract.
For the title of the abstract, we recommend against replicating the study title for the visual abstract. Rather, we suggest writing the central question that the study is attempting to answer. For example, our recent study’s title was “Finasteride and risk of bladder cancer in a multiethnic population”. However, the central question our study was attempting to answer was: “Did the chemoprotective effect of finasteride for the prevention of bladder cancer vary by race/ethnicity?” The question provides more context for viewers of the visual abstract, and creates a narrative tension that the remainder of the visual abstract can provide the answer to.
For the body of the abstract, we suggest using the methodology space to describe overall characteristics of the study population, such as the number of participants, their demographics, and the inclusion criteria. For the exposure and outcome spaces, we suggest filling these spaces with the exposure of the study (e.g. drug vs placebo) and the relevant outcome of the study (e.g. the risk of developing bladder cancer). In the footer of the abstract, we suggest placing the major conclusion of the study, along with information for viewers to find more information about the study and the author’s institution and contact information (i.e., Twitter handle).
We suggest using large, bolded, easily readable fonts to write out information within the visual abstract. Given that many abstracts will be viewed on mobile devices, or compressed when uploaded to social media networks, there will be limits on how much text which can be included in the abstract. In the abstract below, we used size 22 font, Arial for headers, and size 18 font, Arial for the main text.
We also suggest using icons, many of which are freely available for noncommercial purposes, to emphasize certain points within the abstract. There are many icons which describe clinical elements, and are available from icon repositories such as Noun Project and Flaticon. However, we caution authors that certain icons are licensed as “Creative Commons” and require attribution to the icon creator. However, many icons are licensed as either public domain (which do not require any attribution at all) or rights to use icons can be purchased for a nominal fee (generally <$10.00).
Lastly, we recommend using complementary color palettes when designing your abstract. Complementary color palettes improve readability and the visual appeal of your abstract. Many are freely available at Coolors.co. These color palettes can then be used to create backgrounds for specific information you wish to highlight in your abstract.
Once we incorporated all design elements, we developed the abstract below (Figure 2). However, we emphasize the need for multiple individuals to review and provide feedback on the abstract. Additionally, before posting the abstract to social media websites, we recommend exporting the abstract from Microsoft PowerPoint as a PNG file and reviewing it, to ensure that design elements remain consistent in the export process.
Figure 2. Finalized abstract.
Visual abstracts are an effective way of promoting research findings on social media, and for concisely communicating key findings to other researchers and the lay public. Within this blog post, we have provided some guidance on the creation of visual abstracts. We hope other members of the urologic community utilize this novel method of research outreach and communication.
NephJC Website—NephJC is a nephrology Twitter journal club that creates many high quality visual abstracts based on the nephrology literature. Their website contains many great examples of visual abstracts, and can be viewed for inspiration.
Andrew M. Ibrahim, MD, Creative Director at Annals of Surgery, provides an excellent guide on creating a visual abstract.
- Lindquist LA, Ramirez-Zohfeld V. Visual Abstracts to Disseminate Geriatrics Research Through Social Media. J Am Geriatric Soc. 2019;67(6):1128-1131.
- Ibrahim AM, Lillemoe KD, Klingensmith ME, Dimick JB. Visual Abstracts to Disseminate Research on Social Media: A Prospective, Case-control Crossover Study. Ann Surg. 2017;266(6):e46-e48.
- Zhu D, Srivastava A, Agalliu I, et al. Finasteride Use and Risk of Bladder Cancer in a Multiethnic Population. J Urol. in-press, doi:10.1097/JU.0000000000001694.