Understanding Plain English summaries. A comparison of two approaches to improve the quality of Plain English summaries in research reports

Emma Kirkpatrick, Wendy Gaisford, Elaine Williams, Elizabeth Brindley, Doreen Tembo, David Wright
2017 Research Involvement and Engagement  
Plain English summary There is a need for the authors of research reports to be able to communicate their work clearly and effectively to readers who are not familiar with the research area. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), along with a number of other funding bodies and journals, require researchers to write short lay summaries, often termed plain English summaries (PESs), to make research accessible to the general public. Because many researchers write using technical,
more » ... lised language, particularly in scientific reports, writing PESs can be challenging. In this study we looked at how to improve the quality of PESs. We took PESs which had been submitted to the NIHR Journals Library and asked authors to rewrite them using new guidance. We also asked an independent medical writer to edit the summaries. We measured the quality of these three versions (original summary, rewritten summary and edited summary) in two ways. First, we asked a group of people who were not specialists in the subject area to read and rate how easy the summaries were to understand. Secondly, we used a well-known measure called the Flesch reading ease score to assess how easy the PESs were to read. We found that there was no difference in how easy people found the summaries to understand across the three versions. However, the PESs that were rewritten by the authors and that were edited by the independent medical writer were both easier to read than the originals. This shows that PESs can be improved and for organisations who feel that employing an independent writer to edit summaries, providing clear, practical guidance to authors may be a cost-effective alternative. Abstract Background Plain English summaries (PES) or lay summaries are often included as part of research reports and journal articles. These summaries are vital to ensure that research findings are accessible and available to non-specialist audiences, for example patients and members of the public. Writing a PES requires the adoption of a different style than is generally used in a traditional scientific report, and researchers can find this challenging. This study explored two possible ways to improve the quality of PESs in the NIHR Journals Library: 1) Providing enhanced guidance to authors and asking them to rewrite the PES and 2) Employing an independent medical writer to edit the PES. (Continued on next page)
doi:10.1186/s40900-017-0064-0 pmid:29062542 pmcid:PMC5632836 fatcat:4rngm6pzybdvja74bdvmc6rnqq