How to write a plain English summary

The people who read your summary will be an interested audience, but are not necessarily specialists. Therefore write your summary with this audience in mind, for example at the same level as an article in a newspaper.

There are a few simple rules for writing in plain English. In summary these are:

  • avoid wherever possible using jargon, abbreviations and technical terms – if you have to use them provide a clear explanation
  • avoid complicated English or uncommon words
  • use active not passive phrases, for example say ‘we will do it’ rather than ‘it will be done by us’
  • keep sentences short
  • think about the order and structure
  • break up the text, for example use bullet lists
  • ask patients / carers / colleagues to read a draft to find out if anything is unclear.

The plain English summary is not the same as a scientific abstract – please do not cut and paste this or other sections of your application form to create the plain English summary.

The INVOLVE jargon buster has definitions of research terms developed with a panel of researchers and members of the public.

See our resources page for guidance, information and examples of plain English summaries.

For further support and advice on writing a plain English summary, please contact your local Research Design Service (where applicable).

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