How to Write A Lay Summary for Your Research

April 24, 2019 Samantha Green

Lay summaries, and their close cousin plain-language abstracts, can often seem like just another box to tick on the publishing checklist. They take extra time, and you don’t always get to see why they matter or the impact they can have on your readers.

When all is said and done, it can seem hard to justify the time it takes to create a lay summary among all of the other things researchers have to do to share their work. While lay summaries are another thing to do, they can help you reach the people who may directly benefit from your research. These are the people who are affected by your discoveries – whose lives have the potential to improve because of your analyses and conclusions.

A lay summary can be a valuable tool to tell the story of your research. And stories are what we all connect to most. In a lay summary, your research team is the hero, and your passion is the answer to the question of why.  

They make it quick and easy for people outside the research community to understand why your work matters. Whether they’re science journalists, practitioners or professionals, policy-makers, or the public, they need to understand and engage with your research for it to have an impact.

Lay summaries will also improve the visibility and transparency of your work. By telling the story of the work and why it was important to you, you are acknowledging biases and contextualizing the driving forces behind what you’re doing.

Writing a lay summary can also serve as a template for talking about your work more informally. Sometimes when you’re sharing your work with friends or people outside your research field, it can be hard to focus on the big picture or explain why you do what you do without using jargon or specialist language. Lay summaries remind us to focus on our audience: what do they care about and what do they want to know?

Some journals request lay summaries as a key part of the publication. Many of these focus on a specific audience, like teachers for education research journals, or clinicians for medical research journals. Offering lay summaries helps these publications connect with stakeholders that need to know and understand the latest research on the topic even though they’re not embedded in the research community.

But regardless of journal policy, lay summaries can be a useful tool for enabling every author to think about their work in a different way and explore how to share it with everyone, everywhere.

Take a look at the infographic below for some tips on writing your own lay summaries.

About the Author

Samantha Green

Society Marketing, Wiley // Samantha Green joined Wiley in 2012, working in the Social Science and Humanities Community Marketing team at Wiley. She now works in the Society Strategy & Marketing creating content on publishing trends and the research community.

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