Writing plain language summaries
What is a plain language summary?
A Plain Language Summary is an incredibly effective science communication tool that allows researchers to reach a wider audience by summarizing their work in terms that are accessible to people outside of a specific scientific circle. You may be required to prepare a Plain Language Summary for a journal article submission, a grant application, or a project report. Writing Plain Language Summaries have many benefits for authors—they’re good for sharing outside of scientific circles and can be helpful for fellow scientists who may not be in your field and are unfamiliar with your particular type of jargon. While creating a Plain Language Summary from a technical abstract may seem link a daunting task, it can help to expand the reach of your science by putting it in the hands of new audiences in language that they understand.
Find out more about plain language summaries in AGU journals.
Tips for plain language summaries
- Download a PDF of tips, tools, and examples for writing a great Plain Language Summary.
First, think about your audience (e.g. journalists, science-interested public). What is their level of science knowledge? What about your work will interest them? (for ideas, see “When is Science Newsworthy?”).
- Get rid of jargon. Words can have different meanings to non-scientists so improve readability by changing acronyms and field-specific language. Learn more on reducing/eliminating jargon.
- Explain what the study is about, what you found, and why it matters/what the impact is. Remember, those outside of your specific area of science will need more context about what you studied and why it matters or is relevant to them.
- Test the summary. Have a first reader, someone who is not a scientist, read your summary and then explain your study to you. If they can’t do it, the summary should be revised for clarity.
- Take time to do it right. Your summary may generate wider notice for your paper than your abstract, and you want to be able to highlight the novelty, value, and importance of your research, so that everyone can appreciate and understand it.