Top Tips for writing a research lay summary

What are research lay summaries and why are they important?

Lay summaries help to communicate research to a non-specialist audience. They describe research in plain English and are meant for people who are not researchers.

At Muscular Dystrophy UK, a lay summary is required as part of the funding application process and will be reviewed by our Lay Research Panel. A well written lay summary allows our Lay Research Panel to participate fully in the decision making and is an important part of the assessment process.

Lay summaries are important for disseminating research findings to the public and can also help to make your research accessible to professional audiences outside of your immediate field of research.

Top tips for writing a lay summary

We worked with our Lay Research Panel to share some ‘top tips’ to consider when writing a lay summary*:

Do’s:

  • Consider who you are writing for and why
  • Put the research in context and explain which gap the research is filling- how does it fit into the bigger picture? Why is it needed?
  • Keep it short and succinct; use short sentences (20 words or fewer)
  • Provide definitions or a glossary for technical terms if you can’t avoid them
  • Use good sentence structure and grammar
  • Use bullet points to clearly introduce the key aims and objectives of the proposal
  • Provide a clear justification of costs in applications
  • Ask someone who does not have a scientific background to read the lay summary – do they understand it?

Don’ts:

  • ‘Waffle’ or be vague
  • Use long, complex sentences
  • Use acronyms, abbreviations or scientific jargon; if you have to use technical terms, provide a clear explanation
  • Forget to explain why this research is important – ‘so what?!’

*These tips were written with lay summaries for grant applications in mind, but many will be applicable to lay summaries written for a different purpose.

More useful resources and guidance to help you write your lay summary can be found on the INVOVLE website.

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