What does a great lay summary look like?

So you’ve read our top tips on writing a lay summary – now see real examples from successful Academy grant awardees.

Grant panel member and Academy Fellow Professor Carol Dezateux CBE FMedSci was on the judging panel for these awards. “These lay summaries really managed to make a connection with patient concerns and experiences while also articulating the science clearly. They clearly stated the problem and potential impact from this research without using jargon, and gave a powerful sense of what inspired the researchers themselves.” 

Real example lay summary 1

“He’s not the man I married...he used to be so calm.”

“Every little thing seems to make me angry.”

“I’m afraid to leave the children with him.”

I am a neurologist, and these words are directly from my patients with severe head injuries and their families.

Behavioural problems and poor emotional function, such as being more irritable, frequent anger and even physical violence, are common after head injury. They are a major reason why patients lose their jobs, experience relationship breakdown and become socially isolated.

I want to investigate why head injury patients experience poor emotional function and behavioural problems.

An area at the top of the brainstem is the major source of noradrenaline in the brain. White matter connections carry information between this area and the rest of the brain. These connections are particularly important for emotional function and thinking. White matter damage is very common after severe head injury. Therefore, one possible reason for behavioural problems is that damage to these white matter connections leads to abnormal function of the noradrenergic circuits and poor emotional function.

I will assess white matter damage with MRI scans, and activity of the noradrenergic circuits by measuring pupil size and heart rate. I will test if these measures relate to measures of emotional function (assessed with computer-based tasks and questionnaires)

There are currently no specific treatments for these devastating problems. I hope the results of this project will help us develop targeted treatments, for example, with drugs or non-invasive brain stimulation.

Dr Lucia Li is an NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Neurology. She successfully applied for funding for this project through the Academy’s Starter Grant awards.


Dr Li adds: “I did think quite a bit about how to write this and took a bit of a gamble. I was thinking about why I wanted to do this project. And it was because I was hearing the same, desperately sad, things from a lot of my patients. So I wanted to convey that, and the best way for me was to just let the patients speak for themselves by quoting them directly.”

Real example lay summary 2

Diamond-Blackfan Anaemia (DBA) is a rare disease, usually diagnosed in babies because of dangerously low numbers of red blood cells. DBA is also associated with congenital abnormalities and an increased risk of cancer. One third of patients can be treated with life-long steroid tablets but two thirds do not respond to steroids or cannot tolerate the serious side-effects. These patients need regular blood transfusions or a bone marrow transplant, both of which can have dangerous side-effects. A person affected by DBA also has a 1 in 2 chance of passing on the disease to each of their children.

In DBA, anaemia results from a failure of red cells to be produced normally in the bone marrow. Red cells develop around an immune cell called a macrophage, like an orchestra around a conductor. The aim of this research is to explore the communication between the ‘conductor’ and the ‘orchestra’ in DBA, and the impact of steroids.

To achieve our aims we will isolate and compare the conductor (macrophage) and orchestra (red) cells from patients with DBA, and healthy bone marrow donors, in the presence and absence of steroids.

This work will help us to understand in more detail how red blood cells develop and how steroids work in patients that respond. I anticipate that this will enable new or improved treatments that target the red blood cell defect more precisely, with fewer side-effects.

Dr Deena Iskander is an NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer in Haemotology. She successfully applied for funding through the Academy’s Starter Grant awards.


Dr Iskander commented: “I have had a lot of practice talking about my research with patients who have the disease. It's a very rare disease so I actually know lots of the patients personally! I think that has been really helpful. My main tip would be to visualise the research in a picture and then describe the picture in terms of where the research is happening, who is doing it and what the experiments and potential findings 'look' like.”

Before you start writing your perfect lay summary explaining your research to a general audience, remember to also check out our top tips for writing a lay summary. You can also find more tips on many aspects of research careers on our Learning Hub.

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