In the past year a new movement focused on redesigning the display of research data has been gaining ground on Twitter. The drive primarily deals with combining research abstracts and infographics to create a “visual abstract.” These easily digestible abstracts can be shared in the community for quick dissemination of research results. Like all good Twitter movements, it’s complete with its own hashtag “#visualabstract.”
Dr. Andrew Ibrahim is a Clinical Lecturer in Surgery at the University of Michigan and a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation. He currently serves on the Design & Health Leadership Group at the American Institute of Architects and is on the editorial board at the Annals of Surgery where he is the Creative Director.
It was part of his work with the Annals of Surgery that he came up with the visual abstract as a means to better disseminate publications via social media. As Dr. Ibrahim put it, “Journals have a long history of using visual information to summarize key information of an article, such as “The Central Illustration” or the “Graphical table of contents,” dating back to the 1980s. It was often focused on basic science submissions to explain pathways or reaction mechanisms. In the era of social media, it has taken on more of a central role for many journals.”
Dr. Ibrahim’s first visual abstract stemmed from trying to create visual slides presenting research for presentations. In discussion with his mentor, Dr. Justin Dimick, they found that such summary slides could help disseminate research in other ways besides being embedded in a slide deck. Dr. Ibrahim now leads the Annals of Surgery with over 100 visual abstracts.
So, where does #visualabstract go from here? Dr. Ibrahim hopes to see more journals adopt visual abstracts as part of the publication process and used in place of posters. As he mentioned, “Our experience at Annals has consistently demonstrated that articles shared on social media with a visual abstract are visited on the publisher’s website nearly three times as often compared to when they’re shared as a text title alone. Second, because readers can view a visual abstract more quickly than they can read a text abstract, it’s an enormous time saver for busy researchers trying to find articles relevant to them. Third, for the authors who create them, it has a hidden curriculum of teaching effective communication. When forced to communicate their research in this format, authors develop a much more clear message about their findings and why they matter. Collectively, it has potential to really improve the impact of important research that may otherwise go unread.”