How to turn your next paper into an infographic
Infographics are a great way of communicating
your research to a wider audience, from other researchers to people who might use your research outside academia. A range of websites now exist to help you develop your graphics, but many researchers get stuck trying to come up with ideas to visualise their research findings, and then, once they’ve produced their infographic, fail to get it to the right audience. This is the latest in a long-running series of “how to” guides for researchers seeking impact from their work.
1. Extract your key messages
Start by cutting your article down to size. If the abstract doesn't summarise your key points, extract them from the work as short phrases, similar to the bullet lists of “highlights” many journals now ask for. Depending on your research, you may also need to have a phrase you can visualise to summarise the problem you are seeking to solve or the aim of the work, and the methods you used.
2. Simplify your language
Cut the academic jargon and rework your messages to use as few words as possible, making sure that they are instantly understandable. Even if your audience is other academics in your field, people need to be able to scan the limited text in an infographic rapidly to get your message, and the simpler your language, the more e ective your infographic is likely to be at communicating your key messages.
Upgoer6 is a simple text editor that will colour-code your text showing you how commonly the words are used in the English language. Your word turns green if you are using one of the 1000 most commonly used words, and if it is red, you might want to think about finding simpler language: http://splasho.com/upgoer6/
3. Visualise your key messages
For some people this comes easily, but for most researchers this is a real challenge, so here are a few ideas that will help get the creative juices flowing:
Draw all the images that come into your mind as you think about each point, choosing the images that you think communicate the point most powerfully Do a Google image search for inspiration Turn to a thesaurus to search for synonyms of key words that might have the same meaning but are more instantly visual
Put your key words into the noun project to get ideas for icons that express your ideas visually in simple terms
Talk to someone about the ideas you are trying to communicate to clarify your thinking and explore options for visualisation
Get a second opinion—what seems an obvious representation to you may not be obvious to others
4. Come up with a layout
Depending on how you want to communicate your infographic, you may need two alternative layouts: a long and narrow layout with your title in the middle for Twitter (so the title shows in the preview pane of your tweet); and a landscape version that you can use in presentations and publications. Draw your layout on a whiteboard so you can play around with different versions till there is a logical flow of ideas for the reader to navigate through.
5. Convert to graphics
Find and pay for copyright to use stock images and use infographic template websites like Easel.ly, Piktochart, Venngage, Visme, or get a designer to help you with this stage. A simple alternative is to create a series of infographics that has a stand-alone message that builds over the series. It can be as simple as finding a striking image and overlaying text using an image manipulation website like Picmonkey. If you create a set of four images, you can release them one per day, and then include all four in a single tweet on day 4 (note: LinkedIn doesn't allow you to attach multiple images to an update).
Don't go crazy with the colours. If you’re overlaying text onto a photo, pick a colour from the photo that contrasts with the majority of the image. If you’re creating your graphics from scratch, use a “limited palette” of between 2 and 3 colours (not including your font colour) that complement each other well. Pick a simple font so that it’s easy to read, and try to use colors that will match the tone/content of the text e.g. dark blue is formal and calm, and green is commonly associated with environmental topics.
6. Have a plan for communicating your infographic
There is no point in making an infographic if you don’t have a plan for getting it to your target audience:
Know who your audience is, what they are interested in and what platforms they are on
Decide what you want people to do as a result of reading your infographic, and make it easy for them to do this. If you want other researchers to cite your paper, link directly to the open-access version of the full paper. If you want a wider audience to engage more deeply with your work, consider linking your infographic to a blog, which then links to the original paper. If you want someone to perform an action, make it easy for them to do, for example, giving them links to alternative products or a draft email to contact their local MP
Create a social media strategy (it’s not as hard as you might think—you just have to be able to answer four questions, in your head). For help, download our Social Media Strategy template here
Alternatively, save time and reach out to online influencers who already have a large audience that you want to reach. Reach out to them on the platform, and if they don't respond, email or phone them, explaining why your infographic will be of interest to their audience and add value to what they are doing. You’ll be surprised how many will agree to work with you if you are persistent.
How coherent is your digital profile?
When was the last time you audited your digital footprint? Do you know what people see when they google your name and affiliation? How coherent or confusing is the image of you that people see?
The number of digital platforms that profile researchers’ work is proliferating rapidly, leading to an increasingly fractured picture of their work. For some researchers, this problem is compounded by the fact that they work on multiple, very different issues, with different communities of researchers and stakeholders. Some researchers are experiencing unintended digital sprawl. Others have chosen to cultivate different identities across different platforms and accounts to engage with specific communities. Either way, the proliferation of online identities can be confusing for people who just want to know who we are and what we do.
Going solo: which platform should I focus on?
As a result, many researchers ask me what one, single platform they should be on. This is an attractive option in theory, as you only have one place to update. If you have to choose one place, then your employer will probably tell you that you should choose to focus on the profile on your institution’s website. That is good enough for many researchers, but many want their work to be more visible or want to have more control over the way they organise and present their work than their institutional profile allows.
If you want to keep digital sprawl under control and are looking for just one other place to feature your research (other than your institutional profile), then your choice will need to reflect what you want your digital profile to do for you. If you want to reach out to other academics and primarily showcase your academic work, then Google Scholar and ResearchGate are popular platforms which make your work highly visible with minimal time input (they identify your publications for you, so you don’t have to manually input them). If you want to face a broader audience, or aren’t sure if you’ll be hanging around in academia for long, then LinkedIn enables you to showcase publications, projects, presentations and more to a broad professional audience, but requires manual entry.
To help you to decide which platform to focus on, check and see which ones already get ranked highly in a Google search for your name and employer. That way, you guarantee that people looking for you find something relevant and up to date, and you can sign-post them from there to a small number of less highly ranked sites. By channelling traffic in this way, you can very quickly bring coherence to a fractured digital footprint.
Being in more than one place at a time without confusing your audience
You don’t have to settle for one or two platforms; indeed there are compelling reasons for engaging across multiple platforms, for example, to engage with different audiences via specific social media accounts that enable you to engage with specific groups of people. However, the more different profiles you have, the more confusing the picture may become for those looking in. If your digital profile is spread across multiple websites, platforms and accounts, then you need to find a way of bringing together these fragments to create a more coherent image of your work.
Your first challenge is to find a unifying phrase, concept or strapline that summarises the full range of your work effectively. As a researcher who studies people’s interactions with the natural environment and knowledge exchange for impact, I came up with “knowing people knowing nature” to summarise my work. I am often surprised at how quickly and effectively researchers manage to succinctly summarise what they do in plain English when I ask them to do so in a tweet (140 characters) when I’m doing social media training. Give it a try...
Now you can copy the same phrase across multiple platforms, making it clear that you are the same person and not a different researcher. You can also start linking accounts, providing hyperlinks to the places you feel best represent your work, which you keep up to date most regularly. This can be a nice way of avoiding spending too much time on sites where you have to manually enter your information (like your institutional profile), instead providing summary information and signposting to sites that are easier to keep up to date.
You can do the same with social media accounts (for example in the biography for @fasttrackimpact on Twitter, it says that “tweets are by @profmarkreed” and in the biography for @profmarkreed, it says that I do “research impact training @fasttrackimpact”).
Your final option, which is the most powerful (but also the most challenging to pull off effectively) is to create your own personal website which all other platforms point to as the main source of information about your work. On your personal website you can configure your material in any design you want, and have full control over updates. You can create your own narrative that links your various identities as a researcher, pointing people to specific platforms if they want to engage with you about those issues in greater depth. If you link to your personal website from your university profile, Google should fairly quickly start to rank your website at a similar place in search results to your institutional profile.
Fast Track Impact designed a personal website for Christopher Raymond recently that is a good example of how you can bring together multiple research strands into a coherent whole. The front page links to other platforms he is active on. At the top of the publications page, he has featured papers that he wants to get read and cited. He also has a page that brings together the different strands of his work in a hyperlinked diagram that clicks through to detail on each research area.
You can contain (or at least make sense of) the digital sprawl, and if you do, you may find that you spend less time updating the “digital you” and more time benefiting from the collaborations that arise from a coherent digital profile.
If you want a quote for a personal website, optimised for research impact and with the full design process you would expect to see from a professional web design company at a fifth of the price, get in touch. At Fast Track Impact we realise that most researchers can’t afford professional web design, but deserve to showcase their work for the best possible price. http://www.fasttrackimpact.com /design-for-impact