02 January 2011

Your New Year’s resolution

If you don’t know how to use a graphic software package more complex than PowerPoint, make this the year to learn it.

It’s not just about posters any more.

As Andrew Sun points out in this very good post, more and more journals are asking for graphic abstracts. I wrote a little bit about these in my other blog. I like his assessment of the problem:

Some (graphic abstracts) seem like drawn with the Paint program of Windows with freehand (on the mouse); the lines are zigzag, and the colors are limited with a 16-color palette. Some use Comic Sans for texts(.) Some mesh up clip arts from different sources into one graphic which loses consistency in style. Some contain enlarged low resolution clip arts which are severely pixelated.

I disagree with this, though:

All of these are forgivable – after all scientists are not trained as professional computer art designers.

No. Not forgivable. Nobody would ever excuse biologists for not running statistical tests for their experiment because “they’re not professional mathematicians.” Nobody would excuse sociologists for giving rambling, incoherent presentations because “they’re not professional actors.” Nobody would excuse geologists for rampant apostrophe ignorance in manuscripts and papers because “they're not professional writers.”

We acknowledge, accept, and expect that being a professional academic requires a wide range of skills beyond just knowledge of a particular set of content. It is time to make graphic literacy part of that expected skill set.

The ability to create excellent graphics is easier than it has ever been. Yes, it takes practice and thought and is helped by studying materials outside your subject area. But people who can’t make decent graphics are increasingly going to be at a disadvantage to those who can. Don’t be like the unemployed managers who write their resumes on a typewriter.

Andrew goes on to evaluate several graphics programs, and comes out suggesting Inkscape, a free open source vector based software package (currently version 0.48 - quite a way from a full release). I will try review it later.

Additional: Grant Jacobs takes up this discussion at Code for Life.


Bori said...

I'm (still) a powerpoint user when it comes to posters, but I've had to start some simple work with Inkscape to modify some R graphical output. On a first glance I find InscapeI fairly user friendly, I like that it's open source and it works nicely on my Mac. All in all- I agree with you that being in science means having a speciality and a palette of other skills. Let's just hope I stick to my own resolution and do learn a few more things properly... Keep posting, waiting for your Inkscape review.

leandro ribeiro said...

I've done all my wife's posters using Inkscape, but it lacks some text formatting features that are sometimes necessary. Looking for a better tool, I found Scribus.

It is a bit harder to learn, but it is a tool comparable to Quark and inDesign. There are alot of tutorials out there showing how to use it to create posters.