Plain language summaries: What are they and why should you include them?
A plain language summary (PLS), also known as a “public lay summary,” a “plain language summary,” or “lay abstract,” is very similar to a typical abstract, with the key distinction that it is written without field-specific vocabulary. The PLS addresses a non-researcher audience—such as policymakers, media, and nonexperts, and contributes to public understanding of the subject matter. PLS can also be a very effective means of making your article stand out, encouraging readership of your work.
How to write a Plain language summary
A plain language summary (PLS) is composed of a title and abstract. They are an important feature of the article and can be provided for Original articles, Meta-analyses, and Systematic Reviews (for all other article types, please check the journal guidelines). The PLS should be included in your article upon submission, after the scientific abstract and before the introduction. Plain language titles (approx. 50 words) and plain language summaries (approx. 300 words) are descriptions of the paper that are easily understandable, and will be viewed by researchers and clinicians, as well as the public plus the media.
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 your study.
The published PLS will appear underneath the scientific abstract and before your introduction. View an example here.
When writing a PLS, please follow these guidelines:
- Avoid jargon, use every day English terms to convey your message. If you need to use technical terminology or abbreviations, please explain the term when introduced.
- Define the who, what, why, when, where, and how of the research. Provide answers to the following questions:
• Why was this study done?
• What did the researchers do?
• What did the researchers find?
• What do the findings mean?
- Use short, clear sentences, short paragraphs, and bullet points
The plain language summary will be peer reviewed with your article, and feedback and suggested edits will be made by reviewers and the journal’s editorial team.