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Plain-language Summaries: Quick Writing Guide & Resources for Authors

Accdon LetPub authors can now select our new plain-language (PL) summary service option to broaden the impact of their article and reach a wider audience. Plain-language summaries help readers from various backgrounds easily understand key research findings. PL summaries are a “1-min snapshot” of key research points written in a non-technical style.
Who is the audience for PL summaries?

Everyone! PL summaries are one way for researchers to communicate their findings to a general audience. To write an effective PL summary, first consider the audience. Ask yourself the following questions before writing:

-What is the most important finding for this audience to know/understand?
-What part(s) of this manuscript will resonate most with a general audience?

How to structure your PL summary:

These questions provide a good starting point for your PL summary draft. Even though PL summaries are typically short (ranging from a couple sentences to 800 words, depending on the target journal guidelines), each sentence should convey one idea and each paragraph should convey one theme. PL summaries should be easy to follow and navigate. The writing should convey important ideas and themes in a concise and pithy manner. It can be easy to include too many details, especially when you know a topic well, so be sure to refrain from confusing readers with superfluous details that distract from the main overall takeaways of your research findings.

Use of technical words (if needed):

Writing for a general audience requires that an author typically avoid using technical words; however, use of a technical word is sometimes unavoidable, and that’s okay, as long as you take these steps:

Ways to define a technical word or acronym:

Parenthetically: "Inflammation (heat, swelling, and redness) is caused by the body's protective response to injury or infection." You can also use dashes or commas.

In a simple declarative sentence: "When your body is hurt or becomes infected, it has a protective response of heat, swelling, and redness called inflammation."

With an extended definition: A complicated concept might require its own paragraph or sidebar.

The most important consideration when writing a PL summary is readability: the PL summary must communicate important findings clearly. Explain important concepts to the reader but don’t oversimplify so much so that your topic loses meaning. Here’s an example:
Let's say you're writing about glucose testing. Your audience needs to understand "A1C test" and "glucose." How can you explain them?
NIDDK explained these complex terms step-by-step, in context:

(*Note: example taken from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

The most important thing to keep in mind: everyone benefits from PL writing! Nowadays readers are keen on quickly understanding and sharing information. Your PL summary will help increase the chances your research is shared and acknowledged beyond the scientific community.
Contact us at for additional help with your PL summaries.

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