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So much time is spent writing an article, submitting and publishing it, that it’s easy to forget another important step. Getting your article into the hands of interested readers is extremely important. Typically, this includes fellow researchers and other scholars, but it’s also important to get your work noticed by the general public. That’s where a lay summary comes in.
Why Write a Lay Summary
If your research and results might be important to the general public, you’ll want to write a lay summary, and many journals allow you to do so. Just like you, they want to reach a wider audience. After all, if your work is published, but not read by interested parties, it will just blend in with the other 2.5 million articles that are published every year! The more people that you can expose your article and your research to, the more visibility you will have.
Another reason to write a lay summary is to make your findings accessible to the general public. Again, if your work applies to a more general audience, your lay summary can help people who don’t have an academic background understand your work.
Research institutions and funders are also interested in increasing the impact of their research beyond an academic reach. By writing a summary of your article so that the average reader can understand it, your work will be exposed to more people. Funders and institutions are then more likely to support additional research on the topic. And, in fact, funders now expect research institutions and universities to show how their research impacts the general public, and how it may solve problems that will benefit society in general. The relevance of your research can be magnified through a lay summary, and is just one way to engage with stakeholders, including the general public.
The Difference Between Lay Summary and Abstract
You write your abstract for the scientific audience. So typically, the language is academic and detailed. Your lay summary, then, is written in a way that the general public will understand. You are basically writing a short version of your work in a much more non-technical way. You’ll explain your research and findings in a way that the average individual will understand, while still maintaining accuracy.
Also called an impact statement, a lay summary differs from an abstract because it answers a different set of questions than an abstract. Fundamentally, the main point of your lay summary is to answer “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how.”
How to Write a Lay Summary
In practice, a lay summary is very efficient. By answering the basic questions mentioned above, you’re able to convey the core message of your research very clearly, and within the confines of a single, short paragraph. So, basically, you’re trying to entice the reader, in a brief summary, to spend the time reading your work.
The lay summary structure, likewise, is quite simple. Take the reader through your research, answering the five Ws and a brief description of the method of your research. Include why your research is important to the reader, and most importantly, sum your research up in one final sentence on your conclusion and the impact of the work.
If you’re familiar with press releases, and PSAs (public service announcements), your lay summary is similar. Your lay summary can be shared with journalists, who can help spread the word about your important work. In some ways, you’re selling your work to others who can help you access the interest of the general public.
There are many examples of scientific lay summaries to help you get a feel of how they are written. Take care, though, to look at several, since some are written better than others. You can also look up lay summaries of research that has reached the general public. They may be better examples than something that has never reached that level of visibility.
Quick Tips on How to Write an Effective Lay Summary
Here are some ideas on how to structure and write a lay summary that will help get you noticed:
- Order your lay summary in a logical way. That means it may not be related to chronological order.
- Pretend your reader is an undergrad student just walking into your class, and they know nothing about the topic.
- Answer the most important question that the reader might be having: “why should I care?”
- Include some context and background to your research. Why did you conduct it?
- What is the impact of your work? What might change as a result of what you discovered?
- Use very clear, short, and succinct sentences. Write in clear English, avoiding any jargon related to your field.
- Use “we” or first-person perspective, and an active voice “we discovered.” Make it sound warm and personal.
- Use positive versus negative language.
- If you can, include an illustration. They can be critical to helping your reader understand your research.
A lay summary can be an extremely powerful tool to help broaden the reach of your research. There are a wide variety of tools available to help you as a researcher and author, including how to write a grant application. Take advantage of Elsevier’s author services, including language editing, translation, graphics and scientific illustration services. Check the video to learn more and get started today.