Figures make papers easier to understand. I love it when a paper has a flow diagram of what exactly they did, especially when they also say why. I don’t know why, but figures stick in ways that pure words do not, at least for some kinds of information.
So Debbie Brock had the great idea of teaching our undergraduates how to make graphical abstracts. She did this in a class we are co-teaching called Undergraduate Research Perspectives. In it we try to teach all the extra stuff that goes with a research and teaching career. The undergrads in our lab take it every semester so we have plenty of time to cover posters, statistics, experimental design, letters of recommendation, resumes and all the rest. This semester we are doing four things, graphical abstracts, writing for Wikipedia, how to tell opinion from fact in popular editorials, and posters.
Debbie gave a great talk on putting together graphical abstracts. She even found a site that showed good and bad ones on the same material. Basically, the drawings should be clear and simple and illustrate the main points. They should flow in a linear fashion from top to bottom, and should be complemented by the color scheme.
In class we had the students pair up and evaluate papers that had graphical abstracts as to whether they were any good or not. Then on their own they each had to draw a graphical abstract for one of Debbie’s published papers.
Here are some other graphical abstracts. It is really interesting to see how the students treat the same material differently.
So learn how to put your ideas into drawings and it can serve you well for papers, grant proposals and any other way you have of communicating your science. Here is what Clarissa Dzikunu and Stacy Uhm did with Brock’s Proc B sentinel cell paper:
Daniela Jimenez and Xianye Qian had this to say about one of Debbie’s papers:
Anthony Bartley and Erica Ryu had different interpretations of the Stallforth et al. PNAS paper.
Odion Asikhia and Ashley D’Costa read the same paper and had different takes