How to write a plain English summary
Think about your audience
Identify who will be reading your work and keep them in mind as you write and think about what they need to know. Writing in plain English will help you get your information across more easily and in a friendly way. If you are writing for a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funding application the people who will 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
- check how it sounds by reading it out loud
- ask patients / carers / colleagues to read a draft to find out if anything is unclear.
When you have finished writing your summary read it through and remove any unecessary words for example:
The draft community engagement proposal
that was received from the local hospital
currently in the process of preparing a public involvement strategy to be launched in May 2014
If you are designing a document keep the information clear and simple. Use headings to guide the reader through the text.