Research Poster Design

Basic design principles for powerpoint slides, infographics, and research posters.

Visual Abstract Basics & Tutorial

Visual Abstract Basics

A visual abstract is just like an infographic - but for your research paper. It is a visual way to summarize the key findings of an article. Think of it like the abstract portion of a manuscript, made into a billboard. It will grab the readers interest, but not replace the importance of the article.

Dr. Ibrahim created this fantastic resource on design in healthcare and the visual abstract.

To demonstrate how visual abstracts work, here is an abstract from a published paper:

Human emotions, such as anxiety, depression, fear, joy, and laughter, profoundly affect psychological and physiological processes. These emotions form a set of basic, evolved functions that are shared by all humans. Laughter is part of a universal language of basic emotions that all humans recognize. Health care providers and educators may utilize the power of laughter to improve health and enhance teaching and learning. This is an important consideration because teaching is not just about content: it is also about forming relationships and strengthening human connections. In this context, when used effectively, humor is documented to build relationships and enhance performance. Specifically, humor improves student performance by attracting and sustaining attention, reducing anxiety, enhancing participation, and increasing motivation. Moreover, humor stimulates multiple physiological systems that decrease levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, and increase the activation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward system. To achieve these benefits, it is important to use humor that is relevant to the course content and not disparaging toward others. Self-effacing humor illustrates to students that the teacher is comfortable making mistakes and sharing these experiences with the classroom. In this brief review, we discuss the history and relationship between humor, laughing, learning, and health with an emphasis on the powerful, universal language of laughter.

Now, here is the same abstract, as a simple Visual Abstract made in Canva:



And you can make any information more interesting and easier to remember and understand using graphics like this. The CDC has a template and great guideline for visual abstracts.

Of course, many journals have templates and expectations for what their visual abstracts should look like so be sure to check for templates or rules with the publisher.


This tutorial uses or Canva (If you prefer another software, like Powerpoint or Photoshop, you're welcome to use that!)

  • From the Canva homepage, create an account to automatically save and share all of your designs
  • Search for a template (use words like "research" or "infographic") or start blank
  • Add text and graphics to your heart's content!

Once you've started a project, you can edit it as much as you would like to! Give yourself at least an hour to really click around, play with colors, fonts and icons, make mistakes, and maybe even trash it and start over! That's okay.

But please, please, please be aware that design takes time. It takes A LOT of time. So plan accordingly. Some  projects have taken upwards of 20+ hours.

There a lot of other free visual abstract options. Adobe Spark Premium usually costs money but is free to U affiliates, is very easy, and has the best looking options so I highly recommend it! (Also, Adobe Spark was created specifically for creating social media posts, websites and videos, so consider this a skill in professional development!). There is a powerpoint template to start with at the bottom of this page you are also welcome to use!

If you're in need of design assistance, I'm always happy to help:


NOTE ABOUT COPYRIGHT: When searching within Adobe Spark, or Canva, everything is fair use. But if you are using the internet for icons or photos, make sure you aren't using someone else's intellectual property. You can always purchase the image or icon from the host, but if you would prefer some free alternatives use Google's image search feature and under "Tools" you will find "Usage Rights" and filter by "labeled for reuse".


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