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. In this guide, we will explain how you can turn your next paper into an infographic in six simple steps. Below, you can see examples of how we've used these six steps to develop infographics for researchers. You don't need a designer to turn your research into an infographic (but if you want to take a short-cut, we can help you).
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 effective 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.
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 from our resources page
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.
Find out more
This is the latest in a long-running series of “how to” guides for researchers seeking impact from their work. For the rest of our guides, see our resources page.
We create infographics for researchers who ask us to build their website. To find out more, visit our Design for Impact page.