Get Visual, Get Visible: Part 2- Content workflows and prominent innovations

Author: Sunaina Singh

Some pragmatic publishers have realized the value of innovating content workflows to stay relevant and to pre-empt growth stagnation. Through a host of tools, publishing giants like Elsevier and Springer are adopting products and features that can “hook” researchers, ideally whole institutions, and embed them into a workflow from start to finish. Elsevier exemplifies a diversified portfolio to this end: an electronic laboratory notebook (Hivebench), a reference manager academic social network service (Mendeley), a preprint service (SSRN), and scientometrics (CiteScore and Plum Analytics).

Author-facing services to maneuver manuscript submission—from identifying suitable journals, formatting manuscripts, to navigating peer review—can be a good way to establish long-term linkages with individual researchers and universities. Elsevier has even filed for a patent for an “Online Peer Review System and Method.” Meanwhile, R Pubsure by CACTUS is an AI-powered manuscript assessment tool that helps researchers optimize their manuscript before they submit it to a journal. A detour in the workflow in the form of Registered Reports (e.g., in Nature Human Behaviour) allows peer review and the decision to publish before data collection and analysis. Around 200 journals now accept Registered Reports, as this approach is believed to reduce publication bias.

Placing a focus on the researcher when modifying content flows is mutually beneficial to the publisher and end user. Some add-ons in the submission and dissemination phase of the workflow involve multimedia.

Continuing our discussion from the previous blog, here are the next 4 publishers that are adopting visual content formats to stand out amongst their peers.

1. Research at a glance: NEUROSURGERY®

NEUROSURGERY® by Oxford University Press has started featuring visual abstracts to complement text abstracts and provide authors and journals with an additional tool by which articles can be promoted via social media

Visual abstracts depicting study findings in an easy-to-absorb format (NEUROSURGERY)
Visual abstracts depicting study findings in an easy-to-absorb format (NEUROSURGERY)

2. Making one’s research stand out: SAGE

At SAGE Publications, another leading academic publisher, pre-publication and high-impact research dissemination services are offered to authors. These support services include interactive video summaries and easy-to-consume infographics for impactful science communication and to influence decision-makers, funding agencies, media, and the public at large.

Infographic depicting the core message of an article at a glance (ASN Neuro, SAGE)
Infographic depicting the core message of an article at a glance (ASN Neuro, SAGE)
Screen grabs from a sample video abstract by ASN Neuro (SAGE)
Screen grabs from a sample video abstract by ASN Neuro (SAGE)

3. Chemistry in pictures: Nature Research and others

Among Nature journals, so far only Nature Chemical Biology and Nature Chemistry have adopted the graphical abstract. This is not surprising, given that the graphical abstract on a journal’s table of contents (TOC) has been a feature in many chemistry journals. Moreover, the need for pictorial depiction of organic and inorganic molecules lends itself to a visual format. Structures and pathways are key across various sub-disciplines of chemistry. For instance, the depiction of product synthesis can be done more coherently and succinctly via an infographic than through a verbal description.

A catchy animated representation of structure stabilization published
A catchy animated representation of structure stabilization published in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics (

Graphical abstracts can enhance online browsing, enabled by the availability of bite-sized graphics to glance through. While visual abstracts are relatively well established in chemistry, journals in other fields are now increasingly adopting this feature.

4. Optimizing the design: The BMJ

The BMJ too has recently started making visual abstracts to summarize published studies. A survey assessed readers’ reactions to visual abstracts created for two separate randomized controlled trials. Social media statistics for the first visual abstract posted (March 2018) were promising. Tweets with the visual abstract had more impressions, likes, and retweets than average for tweets containing other infographics. The authors also aimed to ascertain what readers thought about the design of the visual abstract format.

Left: Initial design of BMJ visual abstracts; right, design tweaked based on survey findings
Left: Initial design of BMJ visual abstracts; right, design tweaked based on survey findings

Readers favored moving the study overview to the top of the abstract and inclusion of details about statistical significance. The BMJ incorporated the suggestions obtained from the survey and further revised the template by adding color coding for positive and negative findings (turquoise and pink, respectively) and a clear indication of the type of study (top left corner) for better clarity.

This is an example of using end-user feedback to improve a feature. This journal has now made visual abstracts a regular feature.

Looking ahead

Considerable groundwork has been done by several pioneering journals to explore and deploy multimedia in content workflows. The first visual abstract for social media appeared in 2016, and since then, over 70 journals and institutions have adopted this element to disseminate scientific research. The model has been tested, scrutinized, and streamlined, and will likely continue to adapt to changing scenarios in academic publishing. Studies have examined the impact of visual abstracts in terms of views and citations. In one study, tweets containing a visual abstract had over twice as many views as citation-only tweets. Visual abstract tweets had 5 times the engagement of citation-only tweets. Visual abstract tweets were also associated with greater increases in Altmetric scores than those of citation-only tweets.

The number of Twitter followers of medical journals hugely exceeds the number of print subscribers, and therein lies an opportunity to reach out to wide audiences beyond the medium of traditional journals. Thus, infographics and video summaries might become ubiquitous in future. The integration of a suite of technology innovations by scholarly publishers into their journal workflows will secure and advance their progress in a competitive publishing industry. The success stories provided above drive home the role of Impact Science in fueling these efforts.

To assert their presence in a post-text world, publishers should harness new tools for manuscript submission and management. For publishers that are yet to join the bandwagon, there should no longer be much hesitation: the writing (or shall we say, the infographic) is on the wall!

Reach out to our science communicators at Impact Science to discuss how you can introduce visuals into your content workflow. Write to or fill out the form below.

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