Visual abstract: An innovative way to disseminate scientific research
To cite: Iyengar KP, Botchu R, Jain VK, Ish P. Visual abstract: An innovative way to disseminate scientific research. [Correspondence] Natl Med J India 2021;34:374–5.
Academic journals and conferences are traditional media through which researchers disseminate their research, scientific data and observations. Eventually, such information is utilized in systematic reviews and meta-analyses to formulate clinical guidelines. Although the academic publishing model has seen a transition from a subscription, print-based to open-access or hybrid online versions, an introductory abstract is still an essential component that provides a ‘snap-shot’ view of the ensuing published scientific article.1 Therefore, it is imperative that the summary or abstract is clear, unambiguous and conveys the essential purpose of the research or the clinical study.
Over the past few years, authors and journals have developed innovative ideas to convey the key findings of a research study to the readers and a wider audience. The Altmetric Attention score (Altmetrics) is one such complementary measurement of a research article compared to the traditional, citation-based metrics or a journal’s impact factor. This is derived predominantly from the web-based social media platforms.2 Similarly, visual abstract (VA) is a visual or graphic summary of the information contained in a written or digital abstract with an aim of improving the display of an abstract and readership of the subsequent article (Fig. 1). Since the introduction of this idea in 2016, the concept of VA is being increasingly used by scientific journals, academic conferences and even health magazines to boost visibility of their literary content.3 This has become even more relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic when virtual-learning platforms including e-education models have been promoted as effective modalities to disseminate continuing medical education and journalistic content.4
VA provides a concise visual summary to help readers scan and find the most relevant content for them. VA briefly informs the reader of the key findings of the article before undertaking a detailed assessment of the scientific study, trial or report.5 Altmetrics provides evidence of increased visibility of scientific content due to VA. Prospective cross-over studies and cross-sectional surveys have shown that compared to standard tweets with links to research articles, VAs of articles were liked twice more and quadrupled retweets.6 The authors also discuss the framework to convert existing abstracts to VA for wider dissemination, which would eventually increase readership, potentially advance the care of older adults and benefit public health education. For authors and journals, the introduction of VA can be transformative, with increased exposure of the abstract and consequently greater interest in the article. Interest in reading of the full article may be enhanced.7 There are also some observations of a trend towards increased citations in journals with established Twitter accounts. Although Altmetric score did not correlate with journal impact factor, future studies may help in establishing the link better.8 It has been suggested that VA can improve Altmetric score and thus can result in better research dissemination and social media engagement. VA may also play a crucial role in social health interventions and public health education resulting from social media engagement.9
Integrating of VA as a dissemination strategy of articles is being embraced by various editorial boards. Increasing number of journals, institutions and organizations are adopting VA in their advertising strategy.10 However, VA must be used with caution. Diagrammatic representation of data needs an adequate understanding of graphical tools and application of design principles. It is often difficult to draw a VA, especially for descriptive studies or studies focusing on paraclinical subjects such as radiology or pathology. If not designed properly, VA can give incorrect conclusions, and focus on limited aspects of the study by highlighting only partial information. This is especially pertinent to drug trials where efficacy and safety both need to be studied in detail to decide upon their eventual clinical utility. A further challenge is to place large, scientific data in a graphical format for a VA.
Thus, with judicious application and use, VA may be the way ahead in the digital dissemination of scientific research, besides helping in increasing viewership, Altmetric scores and eventually bibliometric scores of articles.
Conflicts of interest
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