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) or Plain Language Summaries of Publications (PLS-P) 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 accessible to 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
Writing a PLS
1. Plan your PLS—
Think carefully about your intended audience. Consider why your research should matter to them; what details may need to be expanded so that the reader can understand how your research was carried out, and the what the findings mean. It should be balanced and accurate, avoiding speculation, exaggeration, or personal opinions.
2. Convey the message of your research in plain language—
Writing a PLS requires a different set of skills than producing a scholarly article. Use short concise sentences; use simplified terms and avoid jargon and acronyms; write in an active voice but avoid superlatives and metaphors if possible.
3. Present your data—
Avoid complicated statistics or non-essential numbers. Use whole numbers, displayed as absolute numbers, percentages, or natural frequencies (e.g. 1 out of 10 people). Do not expect readers to do any calculations.
4. Check the quality of your PLS—
Have a member of your target audience read your PLS and explain it back to you. Use their feedback to ensure your reader will have an accurate understanding of your article.
Please refer to this blog post for further guidance. You can find examples of existing PLS on our patient microsite. Find out if the journal you are submitting to will accept a PLS on their Submission Guidelines page.
What are Plain Language Summaries of Publications (PLS-Ps)?
Unlike PLS, Plain Language Summaries of Publications (PLS-Ps) are full, standalone, peer-reviewed articles written in approachable, non-technical language.
• They are usually written by the authors of the original publication, although related members of the public may also be included as authors to provide their perspective on the research.
• PLS-Ps are considered an Acceptable Secondary Publication in the ICMJE guidelines.
• They may summarise any article, including existing articles from other publications or publishers.
• They have their own DOI which means they can be indexed in databases, and are fully citable and discoverable using appropriate tagging.
• PLS-Ps can be downloaded for free by any reader under a Creative Commons Open Access license.
Writing a PLS-P
When writing a PLS-P, consider all the things mentioned above in the How to write a PLS section. It is important to note that a PLS-P should also include a clear link to the original publication which you aim to summarise, and any resources which readers may use to deepen their understanding of the topic.
Envision Pharma have created an online toolkit to help authors write PLS-Ps, which can be found here: https://www.envisionthepatient.com/plstoolkit. Information on involving patients as authors can also be found here: https://www.patientauthorship.com/
If you are interested in submitting a PLS-P, please get in touch with Hamish McDougall (Hamish.McDougall@sagepub.co.uk), and we can provide further information.
Journals that accept PLS-Ps
• The Journal of Medicine Access
• Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease
• Therapeutic Advances in Chronic Disease
• Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety
• Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism
• Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology
• Therapeutic Advances in Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
• Therapeutic Advances in Hematology
• Therapeutic Advances in Infectious Disease
• Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology
• Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease
• Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders
• Therapeutic Advances in Ophthalmology
• Therapeutic Advances in Psychopharmacology
• Therapeutic Advances in Rare Disease
• Therapeutic Advances in Reproductive Health
• Therapeutic Advances in Respiratory Disease
• Therapeutic Advances in Urology
• Therapeutic Advances in Vaccines and Immunotherapy
• Women’s Health