Writing a plain language (lay) summary of your research findings

Last updated on 9 Nov 2021

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.

This e-learning module explains how to write a plain language summary of your research findings. It sets out key points to consider and the information that should be provided using existing guidance on this topic.

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:

General guidance:

Clinical trials:

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