Items for submitting your paper and more language – day 2: how to write a lay summary

Items for submitting your paper and more language – day 2: how to write a lay summary

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A lay summary is a summary of scientific research that is aimed at a non-specialist (or lay) audience. A lay summary may also be referred to as a plain English summary.

Journals increasingly require authors to submit a lay summary along with their manuscript. Funding bodies also often request a lay summary of the research set out in a funding proposal.

There are several reasons for this. In the case of a paper submitted for publication, the person who initially checks your manuscript may not be an expert in your particular field. The lay summary will help them determine which of their colleagues is the person best qualified to take your manuscript to the next level. Once your paper is published, the lay summary will help bring your work to a wider audience.

When submitting a funding application, there is again a strong possibility that your application will be reviewed by individuals who are not experts in your field, especially during the early stages of the funding application review process. Having a clear, punchy and easy to follow summary of your proposed research increases the chance that your proposal will proceed to the next round of the process.

Misinformation is an increasing problem in today’s world. One of the ways to tackle misinformation is by engaging the public in science. Lay summaries provide an excellent way to make robust, high-quality science available to the public in an easily digestible but accurate format. They are also a great way to encourage the next generation of scientists, by engaging young people with science in a way that is accessible to them.

There are some key points to remember when writing a lay summary:

  • Focus on the relevance, application or benefits of your research – why is it important?
  • Explain, in general terms, how your research fits into the broader context of your field of research.
  • Use plain English – don’t use a long word if a short word will convey the same meaning, e.g. write “try” instead of “facilitate”, write “use” instead of “utilise”.
  • Write in short sentences.
  • Avoid technical or scientific terms; if it is essential to use a scientific term, define it using simple words that are easy to understand.
  • Avoid acronyms, initialisms and jargon.
  • Use the first person and the active voice, e.g. “We decided…” rather than “It was decided…”
  • Try to write in the way you speak.

Here is an example of an extract from an article followed by a plain English version of the extract that could form part of a lay summary:

The majority of Nepalese people are involved in farming. However, due to limited knowledge of zoonoses and poor preventive practices on the part of livestock farmers, vulnerabilities to zoonotic diseases are very high. The main objective of this study was to assess the regional variation in zoonoses-related knowledge and preventive practices of livestock farmers in different ecological regions of Nepal.

This extract is taken from: Regional variation in knowledge and practice regarding common zoonoses among livestock farmers of selective districts in Nepal, Bagale KB, Adhikari R, Acharya D (2023) Regional variation in knowledge and practice regarding common zoonoses among livestock farmers of selective districts in Nepal. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 17(2): e0011082. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0011082

Lay summary example

Most Nepalese people are involved in farming. However, farmers in Nepal have limited knowledge about the diseases that can be passed from animals to humans and how to stop these diseases from spreading. We investigated what farmers in different parts of Nepal know about these diseases.

Further study for this week

If you have time for further study this week, have a go at writing a lay summary for a paper you are writing or a project you are working on.

Write a list of technical/scientific terms you use frequently when writing about your work. Then, write down some simpler words you could use instead when writing a lay summary.

Lesson tags: A lay summary, English for science, How to write a summary
Back to: English for Scientists