Trusted information from health and social care research studies should be publicly available for the benefit of all. Information about research findings should be available to those who took part in the study, interested groups or communities and the general public in a format that is accessible and easy to understand. This also makes it easier for health professionals, commissioners, policy makers, and funders to access and use the findings to help make informed decisions and so improve the nation’s health.
As part of the HRA’s research transparency strategy we ask research sponsors to include a plain language summary of their findings in their final report. These plain language summaries will then be published on our website alongside the study research summaries.
How do you write a good plain language summary of your research and its findings for a general audience?
Here are some general principles:
- Be accurate, clear and concise
- Do not assume any prior knowledge
- Use words that are appropriate for the reader
- Use short sentences (up to 20 words) and short paragraphs (up to 3 sentences)
- Use neutral language
- Consider using infographics with explanatory text
- Involve patients, patient representatives, or members of the public in the development and/or review of your summary/feedback plans
- Involving professionals with experience of writing in plain language for the public such as medical writers can also help.
What should you include in your lay summary of the research findings?
You should consider including the following information (N.B. not all of the suggested content will be applicable to your research and there may be other information you wish to include):
Thank you to study participants
General information about the research such as:
- Study title
- Who carried out the research? (including details of sponsor, funding and any competing interests)
- What public involvement there was in the study (how many people, what their relevant lived experience was, and what they did)
- Where and when the study took place
- Why was the research needed?
- What were the main questions studied?
Who participated in the study?
What treatments or interventions did the participants take/receive?
What medical problems (adverse reactions) did the participants have?
What happened during the study?
What were the results of the study?
How has this study helped patients and researchers?
Details of any further research planned
Where can I learn more about this study?
Further information and resources:
- National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): Plain English Summaries Guidance
- Digital Curation Centre (DCC): How to Write a Lay Summary
- HRA Public Involvement Guidance
- Summaries of Clinical Trial Results for Laypersons - Recommendations of the expert group on clinical trials for the implementation of Regulation (EU) No 536/2014 on clinical trials on medicinal products for human use (2018). [N.B. The HRA led on the development of these guidelines through an EU-wide taskforce. Whilst this guidance is intended to support the EU Clinical Trials Regulation it can be applied to writing lay summaries for all types of research that have taken place in the UK.]
- The Multi-Regional Clinical Trials Center of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard (MRCT Center): Practical guidance and toolkit for the dissemination of non-technical summaries to research participants. Visit the Return of Aggregate Results to Participants guidance document and Return of Aggregate Results to Participants toolkit.
- Envision Pharma: Plain language Summaries Toolkit
- TransCelerate: Recommendations for drafting non-promotional lay summaries of clinical trial results
- European Forum for Good Clinical Practice (EFGCP): Good Lay Summary Practice (consultation document)