Top tips for writing a lay summary



Writing a summary of your research for a non-expert audience can be tricky. Where should you pitch it? What should you include? Sally Thompson, Communications Officer at AMRC, gives her best tips for effective writing.

Answer the questions what, where, when, why and how

If your summary answers these questions then readers will have all the information they need to do their job, whether it’s making funding decisions, writing about your research on their website or drafting a press release.

Keep it short

Stick to the suggested word count and break up your text with sub headings and bullet points to make it easier to digest. You might also want to use short sentences – try to aim for 10-15 words on average.

Imagine you’re talking to the reader

An easy way to stop yourself getting bogged down in specifics is to imagine you’re speaking to someone, perhaps your grandad or your next door neighbour, about your research. Have a think about how you would describe your project to them and write in a similar style.

Get rid of any jargon

You may know what ‘oxidative phosphorylation’ means but it’s unlikely that the average lay reader will. Try to use everyday language and give simple explanations of scientific terms, for example use ‘nerves’ instead of ‘neurons’ and ‘cell death’ in the place of ‘apoptosis’.

Make it human

Use person centred language such as ‘people with breast cancer’ rather than ‘breast cancer sufferers’.

Put your research in context – how does it fit into the bigger picture?

Make sure you give the reader a bit of background, is your study trying to find out more about a certain condition or is it testing potential new treatments?

Explain the study’s impact – what are you hoping to achieve?

It may be a while before your research can have a positive impact on patients but it’s still important to explain the end goal. If the readers are reviewing grant applications they need to know how your research could make a different to patients, even if it’s a few years down the line.

Don’t shy away from mentioning animals

If your study has involved animals then be honest about it. Make sure to state the type of animal you used and avoid phrases such as ‘animal model’.

Don’t oversimplify your research

There’s a fine line between making your research understandable and oversimplifying it to the point where the reader finds out nothing from your summary. Remember, lay readers are a mixed group and some members will be highly knowledgeable about your area of interest.

Get a colleague and a non scientist to read it

This is really important, your colleague will be able to tell you if the science is correct, whilst a friend or relative without a scientific background can tell you whether it reads well and really explains your research goals. If they still have questions after reading it then you may want to add in more detail.

Interested in reaching further?  Read more top tips on our Learning Hub

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