Have you figured out how to make a graphical abstract?


Debbie Brock teaching graphical abstracts as Rory looks on

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.


Rory Mather’s graphical abstract on the same topic as Richard’s, Debbie Brock’s 2011 Nature paper

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.


Richard Li’s poster after making it linear

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



About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Communication, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Have you figured out how to make a graphical abstract?

  1. Laura Williams (@MicroWavesSci) says:

    Would it be possible to post Debbie’s slides and/or the online resource showing good and bad graphical abstracts? I’m thinking about using graphical abstracts in the classroom and looking for good resources to share with students.

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