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How to Review Plain Language Summaries

In recent years, there have been calls to make scholarly articles more accessible to non-specialist audiences. Research has always helped shape the public realm, empowering people across all sectors of society to make informed decisions. Academic or topic-specific jargon can hinder the general understanding and impact of such publications, which is where Plain Language Summaries (PLS) can be very helpful.

What are Plain Language Summaries (PLS)?

PLS sit after the academic abstract. They consist of a plain language title (~50 words) and a clear summary of the article using non-technical language, making it approachable for a wider network of readers (~300 words). 

•    PLS are published as peer-reviewed additions to articles
•    PLS are written by the article authors and appear underneath the abstract
•    All abstracts and PLS are open access, so they are available online for anyone to read
•    PLS can be disseminated across social media and shared with relevant organizations to increase awareness amongst those who are interested in the research topic
•    PLS are peer-reviewed alongside the original article by a PLS Reviewer

What is a PLS Reviewer?

PLS reviewers are non-specialists who have an interest in the topic of the paper or lived experience. For example:

•    Academics
•    Patients
•    Patient Advocacy Groups
•    Caregivers
•    Early Career Researchers
•    Students
•    Engaged members of the public
•    Policymakers
•    Practitioners

What to look out for when reviewing a PLS

The PLS should be a true reflection of the research presented, written in an engaging and accessible way, without exaggeration. Both merits and limitations should be discussed. However, patronizing language should not be used and the PLS should not be a ‘dumbed down’ version of the study. 

When authors are writing a PLS, we ask them to follow these guidelines:

•    Avoid jargon and use every day terms to convey the key messages from the article. If technical terminology or abbreviations are used, the term should be explained when it is first introduced.
•    Define the ‘who, what, why, when, where and how’ of the research. It may be useful to provide direct answers to the following questions:
     o    Why was this study done?
     o    What did the researchers do?
     o    What did the researchers find?
     o    What do the findings mean?
•    Use short, clear sentences, short paragraphs, and bullet points 
•    Use an active voice rather than a passive voice. For example: ‘we reported several side effects’ instead of ‘several side effects were reported by us’
•    Use absolute numbers, natural frequencies (e.g. 1 out of 10 people) and percentages – don’t expect the reader to do any calculations Avoid p-values and instead describe practical outcomes
•    Ensure that the conclusion/take home message is clear
•    Address implications and guidance for action, if relevant

When reviewing the PLS, we want you to read it and provide feedback to the authors on how they can improve it to make it more accessible whilst keeping the above points in mind.

Why is it important that PLS reviewers review PLS?

You know the audience! If you don’t understand something in the PLS, then it’s likely other readers won’t either. You can help us make sure the PLS is accessible and accurate to allow non-specialists understand the key points of the article.

How to submit your PLS review

You will be set up in the submission system with an account. This will allow you to access the papers that are assigned to you and add feedback on the PLS. You only need to set up your account on your first visit, after that you just need to log in when you receive the notification email. If you are reviewing for more than one journal, you will be required to set up an account for each submission system.

•    The Editor will email you to invite you to review a PLS. Follow the links in the email to accept the invitation to review. 
•    If you are not available to complete the review, please let the Editor know as soon as possible so an alternative reviewer can be assigned. 
•    Once you agree you will receive an email with further instructions and link to the manuscript. Once you have logged-in, you will have access to the peer review interface.
•    When reviewing the PLS, please remember to refer to the guidelines above. You should start your review with the header “Plain Language Summary review” and focus your report on the PLS only. 
•    Please return the comments within 7 days. If you are unable to do so, please let the Editor know as soon as possible so an alternative PLS reviewer can be assigned to the manuscript.
•    When making your recommendation, select "Accept” if you feel no changes are needed, or “Minor Revision” if changes are required.
•    Please do not use “Major Revision” or “Reject” as selecting these may skew the scientific review data. If you do have major concerns, please don’t hesitate to include these in the “Comments to the Editor” section.