Although it is optional, many publishers recommend creating a graphical abstract. According to some, this can provide greater exposure of your article:

its use is encouraged as it draws more attention to the online article


Example of an abstract including graphical abstract, from a recent issue of ACS Synthetic Biology:

Memory and Combinatorial Logic Based on DNA Inversions: Dynamics and Evolutionary Stability

Jesus Fernandez-Rodriguez†, Lei Yang†, Thomas E. Gorochowski†, D. Benjamin Gordon†‡, and Christopher A. Voigt*†‡

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Genetic memory can be implemented using enzymes that catalyze DNA inversions, where each orientation corresponds to a “bit”. Here, we use two DNA invertases (FimE and HbiF) that reorient DNA irreversibly between two states with opposite directionality. First, we construct memory that is set by FimE and reset by HbiF. Next, we build a NOT gate where the input promoter drives FimE and in the absence of signal the reverse state is maintained by the constitutive expression of HbiF. The gate requires ∼3 h to turn on and off. The evolutionary stabilities of these circuits are measured by passaging cells while cycling function. The memory switch is stable over 400 h (17 days, 14 state changes); however, the gate breaks after 54 h (>2 days) due to continuous invertase expression. Genome sequencing reveals that the circuit remains intact, but the host strain evolves to reduce invertase expression. This work highlights the need to evaluate the evolutionary robustness and failure modes of circuit designs, especially as more complex multigate circuits are implemented.


3 Answers 3


Personally, I find "graphical abstracts" extremely useful, both as an author and as a reader of scientific papers. Even when I am not asked to provide a graphical abstract, I try to get an iconic figure onto the first page of my papers, where it can symbolize and summarize a paper to potential readers.

The reason for doing this with scientific works is the same as the reason for putting images in book covers, web links, and many other things: to communicate more effectively to people who are browsing. Since the scientific literature is so large, there is no person who can simply sit and read through all the possibly relevant papers in an area. People perform a triage as they search for information that is significant to them, typically beginning by skimming titles and abstracts, then looking at figures; if those are interesting enough, then they may begin to read the paper.

A graphical abstract effectively puts a figure out front, with the titles and abstracts, increasing the efficacy of information presented while browsing:

  • From a cognitive perspective, this is extremely effective because it engages another input channel on our brains (imagery is handled through different neural pathways than text), making it easier to comprehend and remember something briefly glimpsed.
  • Images also allow non-linear relationships to be presented succinctly, while text is strictly linear in structure.
  • Text abstracts are often highly constrained in their structure and content, while graphical abstracts allow much more freedom in how the authors choose to convey an impression of their work.

They do, however, require new skills that textual abstracts do not, and a bad graphical abstract might be even worse for a paper than a bad textual abstract.


I think it may be a substantial advantage. While I've never had the chance to create one, I really like them myself for a number of reasons.

  • When searching through volumes of literature, they are much easier for a reader to take in at a glance than a traditional abstract.

  • They often provide substantially more information about methods and results than can be packed into a traditional abstract.

  • They are ideal for sharing on social media such as twitter, making it easy for you or others to promote your work.

And after all, a picture is worth 1000 words. Which is more than one gets in some glossy-paper journals these days.


I haven't found graphical abstracts useful either as an author or as a reader, but we include them when we have the option because I assume it makes the paper stand out more in the index. I'm glad to read that others actually find them informative, but I personally much prefer text abstracts and then good figures in the text. I particularly dislike journals that hide the text abstracts from their index pages when there is a graphical ones and don't give you a way to turn that off.

To really answer your question, I assume journals include them because they generate more clicks.

  • 1
    Or it makes the journal appear to be innovative. Jan 10, 2016 at 7:12

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