#VisualAbstracts–A picture speaks a thousand words

Since the birth of FOAMed, there has been a remarkable increase in dissemination of scientific knowledge using social media. Twitter is one of the primary tools that journals and scientists use to share their work. Visual abstracts are one way to distribute scientific articles by social media.

Why have visual abstracts become so successful?

History: It is believed that human communication has existed for over 30,000 years, but text-based communication has only been around for 5,000 years and pictorial writing systems for around 9,000 years. So, for the vast majority of human history, people communicated without text. People relied on visual messages.

Processing of visual information:

Vision processes images in parallel; multiple images can be seen and processed simultaneously. Interpreting text is a serial process that starts at the beginning and scans to the end. This makes textual information inherently slower than visual information. For most humans, memory is much better for visual material and allows more detailed recall of other kinds of material. For instance, people remember faces more easily than the name associated with that face.

A study by Potter et al found that humans can process an image in as little as 13 milliseconds whereas another study by Hauk et al says we can integrate the different processes that lead to word recognition in 200 milliseconds. Thus, by corollary (though this can’t be proven) visuals are processed roughly 15 times faster than text. (Contrary to popular, however, misleading information that visuals are processed 60,000x faster). Consider this very simple example

A curved line with every point at an equal distance from the centre

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Even with something as simple as a circle it was easier to show than describe.

Information overload:

A study by Bohn et al, published in 2012 showed that an average American consumed 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes of information on an average day. The rapidly growing production of healthcare information – both scientific and popular – is increasingly leading to a situation of information overload. As tracked within the PubMed.gov database from the US National Library of Medicine (NLM), approximately 420,000 articles were published in 1993 compared with 1.09 million in 2013. In 1993, physicians interested in diabetes would have to read just over 1 article related to a clinical trial per day to remain current; now, the same physicians would have to read 7 articles per day. It is unrealistic for a physician to carefully read every publication that may be relevant.

Visuals express ideas quickly - in a snapshot. This breaks through the overwhelming clutter of online content. A visual abstract is a single, concise, pictorial and visual summary of the main findings of the article. It is the visualization of the written information thereby adding another dimension to the scientific material and creating a new path toward understanding –or “seeing” the meaning of the text.It is more likely to connect and capture the attention of the reader than a paragraph of 300 words. Visual Abstracts provide a window to the heart of the article, enabling greater visibility.

My mentors [Ed: channeling Bryan Vartabedian] from NSMC say “Visibility creates opportunity” and it was this concept of Visual abstract which attracted me, made me visible and gave me an opportunity – The NSMC 2018 Internship.

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Icons from The NounProject

Why I love Visual abstracts?

At a very young age I was exposed to the world of designing, when I started helping my mother with graphic designing and contributed to her printing business. Come med school, I creatively edited multiple publications coming out of a med college and hospital in Mumbai.

I can still recollect the conversation I had with a colleague after a successful annual publication – “When I have finished my formal education, I wish to do something that will combine artistic designing and science.” The concept of Visual abstracts hadn’t even taken birth then. And thus, it was no surprise, when I was introduced to #NephTwitter, I was attracted to visual abstracts like fish to water. 

Visual abstracts are what attracted me to NephJC, with past interns and faculty having displayed some remarkably creative hybrids of art and science. When the NSMC 2018 applications were invited, I knew it would require some innovation to get selected. When I sat down to compose my resume, it turned out to be a boring 3 page document that I feared would get lost among the other applications. I decided to create a visual summary of my application.

Equipped with the knowledge of Coreldraw and the primer from Andrew Ibrahim, I created my first “visual abstract.” The most difficult part was curating the content to be displayed. Creating a balance between too-much and too-little information is the most difficult part of creating a visual abstract. Here is what I came up with:

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I got in.

post by Aakash Shingada