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A picture is worth a thousand bullet points

Hands up if you have ever ‘speed-read’ a scientific paper just by looking at the figures.

Don’t feel guilty, it’s your brain’s fault. Images appeal to us, as we are drawn to bright colours, and we process information faster when it is presented in a picture. More and more journals are asking for graphical abstracts. Presentations with diagrams are better than ‘death by bullet points’, and articles with images shared on social media receive 10x more engagement than those without images.

‘Images for Impact’ – a must-see presentation by Mary Williams and the American Society of Plant Biologists

How to create images that illustrate a concept and ‘stick’ in your audience’s mind? Mary Williams, Features Editor at The Plant Cell, gave an excellent talk at the Brighton Annual Main Meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology. Mary has kindly made her slides available on Slideshare too.

Even PowerPoint ‘veterans’ learnt new things in Mary’s session, for example how to remove backgrounds from photos to create collages, or how to crop images into non-rectangular shapes. Mary also demonstrated how she uses the freehand drawing tool to create complex diagrams.

Mary Williams created this diagram in PowerPoint, using the freehand drawing tool (American Society for Plant Biologists, 2016).
Mary Williams created this diagram using the freehand drawing tool (American Society of Plant Biologists, 2016).

How to find and use Creative Commons licensed images

Creative Commons licenses and their different levels of use can be confusing, but there are guides available to help you through the CC-maze. Some examples of sites that make large archives of images available to the public are Wellcome Images (CC-BY license) or Wikimedia Commons (this video explains how to cite CC licences and public domain images).

Of course, maximum effects can be achieved by combining photos, freehand-drawings and colour effects. Check out Mary’s presentation for plenty of examples!

Anne Osterrieder

Anne Osterrieder is a Lecturer in Biology and Science Communication at Oxford Brookes University, UK. A plant cell biologist, she loves the Golgi apparatus, lasers and cats. She has her own blog at Plant Cell Biology.

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