Refining Your Project Concept: Visualizing Your Project Concept

Jump to: Activity Examples | Resources

Visuals can be very effective tools for enhancing a reader’s understanding of a concept or piece of text. Effective visuals are especially useful for depicting complex ideas with multiple components or steps, supporting concepts with spatial or emotional components that cannot be conveyed with text alone, and for situations where presenters have limited time to explain concepts directly to an audience. 

The activities below will guide you to… 

  • Think about how to translate words into visual diagrams with the appropriate level of information. 
  • Consider how diagrams can be used to explain spatial and conceptual relationships between components. 

Important Concepts 

It is often useful to get your key message across to an audience quickly using a picture. For example, more and more journals are requesting graphical abstracts for papers. A graphical abstract or concept graphic is a single image that provides the viewer with an understanding of the overall purpose or take-home message of a research paper or project concept. 

In addition, drawing a visual representation of your project concept can be a useful tool to help you better understand the relationships between elements in your projectThe resources below showcase a number of different styles for creating a concept abstract. Some styles will be preferred by specific journals so always check the journal guidelines. 

Suggested Activity – Create a Graphic of Your Project Concept 

Estimated time: 3+ hours  

  1. Starting with a piece of paper (not a computer), sketch out a rough plan for a graphic of your thesis project. Focus on one specific aim or experiment within your overall project.  
  2. What are the key concepts/information that need to be included in your graphic? What information is not essential and can be removed? How are key components/elements related and how can you effectively show these relationships in the graphic? Would someone be able to look at your visual and understand what the purpose and outcomes are for the aim, approach, or experiment that you chose? 
  3. Take a look at the samples of graphical project concepts provided in the activity examples at the end of this module. Do these diagrams give you a good sense of the experimental design? What visual techniques are most effective? Are some details lacking or confusing? 
  4. Return to your sketch and make revisions based on your observations. Choose a graphical software and begin to create a digital version of your abstract. Platforms such as PowerPoint, Photoshop, Illustrator, AutoCAD, Inkscape, and BioRender are a few examples of programs that can be used to make concept graphics. 

Things to Think About… 

  • What elements of the sample diagrams were easiest to understand and conveyed their message most effectively? 
  • What was the hardest thing about turning words into pictures? How did you decide what information to include? How did you visualize the layout of the picture with nothing to start from on the page? 
  • Try sharing your concept graphic with someone who is not familiar with your research. Were they able to understand the main point you were trying to convey? From their questions how would you redesign your image to improve it? 

Activity Examples

Creating a Graphical Abstract for Your Thesis Project
Visual Abstract ExamplesSeveral graphical abstract examples.


Suggestions for Creating Different Styles of Graphical Abstract
Suggestions for creating a graphical abstract for a journal.
Suggestions for poster-like graphical abstracts published by Elsevier.
Suggestions for creating and improving graphical abstracts from Cell Press.