Visual Abstracts — Thoughts from a Medical Librarian


Visual Abstracts (Screenshot)

You might be interested in this initiative arising out of surgery, and primarily developed by Andrew M. Ibrahim MD, MSc of the University of Michigan. Dr. Ibrahim is a Clinical Lecturer in Surgery here and a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation. His idea of a visual abstract is kind of a blend of visual literacies, infographics, posters, and science abstracts.

In surgery, this is being adopted as a new strategy for creating journal article abstracts. It is being mentioned by the Annals of Surgery, Cochrane Collaboration, Journal of the American College of Surgeons (JACS), and the World Journal of Surgery, among others.

It lends itself to plain language explanations of concepts, clarity for funding agencies and policy makers, and as a tool for public outreach and education. The visual abstract may be more accessible to folk with cognitive or learning disabilities, while being less accessible to those with visual disabilities. There are powerful benefits, especially in this era of publicly contested science findings, as well as some significant drawbacks if we were to depend on the visual abstract to replace written abstracts. Another challenge is that it isn’t actually searchable in databases, and the issue of how to include and discover visual abstracts in MEDLINE remains to be addressed by the National Library of Medicine. Personally, I’m not sure that it replaces the full functionality of the traditional abstract, but rather supplements it, which I suspect is the intent. Offering both strongly empowers science communicators and educators, especially if the images are licensed to promote use and dissemination. It would be ideal if the standard of practice for visual abstracts would be to make them Creative Commons licensed.

Medical librarians must be aware of this, and should develop the competencies and skills necessary to make them so that they can help support their institutions as well as creating these for their own articles and research. One of the most common questions about this is how to locate or create icons to use. Just a few quick suggestions. If you have a significant budget, hire a graphic designer. If you have a smaller budget, consider licensing icons from the Noun Project. If you have more time than money, consider using Open Clip Art, where the images are free, but it may take more digging or editing for images you can use.

Cool Toys Pic of the day - Noun Project

So, how do you make these? Dr. Ibrahim has examples, videos, and guidelines available at his site.

Here is the direct link to the primer, including guidelines and best practices for the creation of visual abstracts, but I have not been able to get the direct link to work consistently.

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5854aaa044024321a353bb0d/t/58b8f5b437c5816223531822/1488516555585/VisualAbstract_Primerv2.pdf

Increasing numbers of journals are requesting visual abstracts as part of article submissions or are creating them as part of promotional content for highlighted articles. You can find many examples on the website, and more in the Twitter stream for the hashtag #VisualAbstract. Here are some examples from the past couple weeks.

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