Inadequate guidelines about graphical abstract confuses author: A case study
Case: An author submitted her paper to a journal, and the paper was sent for peer review. The paper received a major revisions decision. At the revision stage, when the peer reviewer comments were sent to the author, the editor mentioned that the paper should include a graphical abstract along with a 50-word text abstract.
The author was confused as there was no mention of a graphical abstract in the author guidelines of the journal. In fact, the journal guidelines mentioned a 200-word abstract which she had already included in the paper. She was not sure whether she should delete the original abstract or retain it. If she deleted the 200-word abstract, she would be going against the journal guidelines.
On the other hand, the editor had asked her to include a 50-word abstract. This would mean repeating the same information that was already there in the original abstract. Also, 50 words would be too less to explain the study in brief. The author was confused and approached us for guidance.
Action: We checked the journal website again, but there was no mention of a graphical abstract. However, upon checking the website of the publisher, we found some guidelines about how a graphical abstract should be presented. We also found out that typically, requests for the inclusion of a graphical abstract were made at the revision stage.
However, while there was information about the image size, resolution, preferred file format, etc., there was no information about the 50-word abstract that the editor had mentioned. We advised the author to create a graphical abstract according to the given specifications and to add a brief synopsis of the main findings in the 50-word textual abstract.
Additionally, we advised the author to retain the original abstract as the editor and reviewers had not given any clear instructions for removing it. We explained to the author that generally, a graphical abstract is separate from the original abstract and each has its own purpose. Therefore, it would be preferable to retain both.
However, we advised the author to write to the journal editor to clarify this before submitting the revised manuscript. The editor wrote back saying that the graphical abstract and a 50-word synopsis explaining the highlights of the study should be provided in addition to the existing abstract. The original abstract of 200 words should not be deleted.
Summary: Generally, a graphical abstract is separate from the original abstract and includes only a pictorial or graphical representation of the main findings. Typically, journals do not ask for any accompanying text with the graphical abstract; the picture is usually self-explanatory. However, the format for a graphical abstract is journal specific and requirements may vary.
Some journals and publishers like Elsevier, Cell Press, and IEEE give provide clear guidelines to authors about graphical abstracts. However, many journals do not provide adequate information about graphical abstract requirements in their instructions to authors. This often leads to confusion, and authors end up wasting a lot of time looking for information elsewhere. Journals should ensure that the author guidelines have all the necessary information to make the publication process smooth for authors.
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