Tips on structure
- Start with the problem your research aims to solve so the reader can identify with this first. Try to explain your research in 25 words and then use this as your first sentence.
- Set the scene carefully, and explain how your work fits into the bigger picture.
- Give the reader a reason to care about what you do – address the ‘so what ?’ question by explaining how your work will help people affected by the disease, even if this is a long way off.
- Consider using simple diagrams to explain concepts.
Choosing the right layout
We use a series of questions to frame the layout of lay summaries. There are sometimes word counts for each section. Here are some tips to make your writing as easy to read as possible:
- use headings to break up long blocks of text
- leave ‘white space’ – use short paragraphs with at least one line space in between
- short sentences will make your research easier to digest – aim for an average sentence length of 15 – 20 words but use shorter sentences too
- use bullet points
Writing in plain English
Plain English is something that the intended audience can read, understand and act upon the
first time they read it. It is important to minimise the use of jargon, technical terms and acronyms. If this is unavoidable, provide explanations.
It is also helpful to use non-scientific analogies to explain complex ideas. For example ‘peripheral nerves can be thought of as electrical cables: the nerves are the wires that run down the middle and they are wrapped in a fatty layer of insulating material called the myelin sheath’.
Here are some examples of simple explanations of scientific terms:
- pathway – a series of chemical reactions
- expression – how genes make products (eg proteins) that can be used by cells
- signalling – ways that cells communicate with each other
- apoptosis – how cells die
- efficacy of X – how well X works
- end-point – something that is measured in a clinical trial and is the goal of the trial
- mutation – a sudden and permanent change in the genetic makeup of a cell
- drug target – something in the body that is changed by a drug to give a desirable effect
- neurons – nerves
- probability – how likely X is to happen
- randomised-controlled trial - a clinical trial where people are put into groups by chance. One group is given the best current treatment or a placebo and their progress is compared to people having the treatment that is being tested. People are usually selected for each group by a computer.
Use simple words and cut out unnecessary words. Here are some examples of how words and phrases can be simplified:
- participate in – take part
- prior to – before
- discontinue – stop
- in the event of – if
- duration – time
- inform – tell
- scheduled to undergo – due to have
- accordingly, consequently – so
- with reference to, with regard to – about
- if this is the case – if so
- in the event of – if
- for the purpose of – to
It is helpful to ask at least one non-scientist to review your abstract and point out phrases or concepts they don’t understand.