Future Science Group Explains How to Write Plain Language Summaries

Future Science Group Explains How to Write Plain Language Summaries
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Ten steps to write and publish plain language summaries in a Future Science Group journal.

Many non-specialist readers access scientific and medical journals, including 45% of patients and caregivers. But these journals are usually heavy with jargon and complicated phrasing. Fortunately, the progressive scientific and medical publisher Future Science Group has identified the need for simple, clear content that all readers can understand. In 2020, the Group stepped in with an initiative to publish accessible information on the latest treatments, therapies, and technologies in science and medicine.

This initiative involves publishing plain language summaries (PLS) - clear, concise recaps of technical publications that break down complex concepts into simple language. These summaries:

  • Make it easier for patients, patient advocates, caregivers, clinicians, and researchers to keep up with the latest in treatments and therapies.
  • Improve communication between patients and caregivers.
  • Help patients understand their treatment plans.

Readers don't need to read the original publication before the PLS version. Instead, plain language summaries are standalone publications that hold all the information a reader needs about a given topic.

It's no surprise that demand for these easy-to-consume summaries is growing. As a result, many authors in the science and medicine space are keen to write PLS for Future Science Group.

Here's how these authors can write PLS for the globally recognised publisher.

How to Write Plain Language Summaries

Future Science Group welcomes enquiries from clinicians and researchers who want to write PLS of reviews and research articles. The Group's mission is to publish as many high-quality, accessible PLS as possible. Authors can follow these 10 steps to publish a summary in a Future Science Group journal.

1)  Identify a Plain Language Summary Concept and Audience

The author's first task is to identify a publication that they would like to repurpose into a PLS. Often, authors write PLS of their own publications. But they can write PLS of publications written by other authors too. Either way, a PLS should make it easy for lay audiences to understand complicated concepts covered in the original publication.

Once the author has a publication in mind, they should identify who the audience of the PLS will be. A PLS written for patients should read differently from a PLS written for non-specialist medical practitioners like GPs. A firm understanding of the target audience will help the author decide:

  • A reading level.
  • The kind of language they will use.
  • Which information to include
  • How to present this information.

The PLS should also note who the recommended audience is so that readers can immediately gauge whether they will find the content useful.

2)      Obtain Permission to Write the Plain Language Summary

The author then needs to obtain permission to write the PLS from the editor of the journal in which the original article appeared. Having sought this permission, the author can then contact the editor of the Future Science Group journal they think would best fit the PLS. Where the Group publishes a PLS based on a different publisher's article, the PLS must become an 'Acceptable Secondary Publication' in line with the ICMJE guidelines. This status confirms that the PLS is original content, not a duplicate of the original publication.

When contacting the Future Science Group journal, the author can also send any pre-submission enquires and request a copy of the journal's author guidelines and free writing guidelines.

3)      Find Authors to Collaborate With

At this point, the author can decide who they would like to collaborate with during the writing process. Several authors collaborate on many PLS, and Future Science Group prefers at least one of the authors who was involved in writing the original publication to be involved in writing the PLS. As a minimum, one of these original authors should at least review the PLS before submission to ensure the authors have interpreted all information correctly. Usually, authors also team up with patients who meet ICMJE authorship criteria and can offer first-hand perspectives on the relevant topic area.

4)  Write the Plain Language Summary

Authors should ensure they write the PLS using plain language. Many authors surprise themselves when they find it more difficult to write using plain language than technical language. But clinicians and researchers are familiar with their scientific fields and often use jargon and complex language without realising that this kind of information may be inaccessible to some readers.

There aren't currently any formal guidelines on literacy levels for PLS. However, Future Science Group recommends that authors put their content through a readability test before submitting their PLS. Authors can use a readability score evaluation tool like the Flesch-Kincaid calculator to measure the readership level of the content (the ideal reading age is usually 12 years +). Authors can also gauge readability by asking a non-specialist colleague to read the PLS and check they understand all material included.

Should authors need any assistance when writing their PLS, they can make the most of Future Science Group's dedicated writing service. The publisher's writing team can help authors:

  • Craft a framework for the PLS.
  • Seek permissions from the original publisher.
  • Use plain language to make the content accessible.
  • Convey information clearly.
  • Include all relevant information.
  • Source media to support the written content.

5)      Decide on a Clear Title for the Plain Language Summary

When writing a PLS, authors should also ensure they provide a clear title. The title acts as a hook that will engage readers, so it should describe exactly what the PLS is about and include the phrase "plain language summary".

6)  Submit the Plain Language Summary

Once the authors are happy with the PLS, they can submit the PLS files and supporting forms to the relevant Future Science Group journal via its website. Having received the submission, the Future Science Group journal will put the PLS through its thorough peer-review process. During this double-blind procedure, subject area specialists, plain language experts, and patients will examine the PLS to ensure that:

  • It accurately reflects the original publication.
  • A lay audience can understand the content.
  • It's suitable for publication in the relevant journal.

Future Science Group involves patient reviewers in this process so that those who have first-hand experience can evaluate the PLS submissions.

7)  The Revision Process

The journal's reviewers and editorial team draw up feedback for successful PLS submissions. The authors can use this feedback to amend the content and prepare the layout of the PLS for publication. The journal's production team will work with the authors to finalise media inclusions like graphics, illustrations, infographics, graphs, audio content, and videos. Media inclusions often make it easier for users to understand complicated information and data than written text alone can.

8)  The Production Process

Once the journal has approved the final version of the PLS, the journal's production team will format the PLS using Future Science Group's PLS template. However, authors may include non-traditional graphics to convey data where necessary, and the production team will adapt the template accordingly.

9)  The Publication Process

Once published, the PLS will appear as an open-access resource in an online journal and possibly in print too. Future Science Group tags and assigns all PLS with a digital object identifier, which makes the PLS fully citable and easy to find on databases. Future Science Group also publishes PLS under a CC BY-NC-ND licence, which means readers can access and share PLS for free as long as they cite the journal.

Future Science Group also publishes translations of some PLS, making these summaries more accessible to those whose first language isn't English.

10)  The Post-Publication Process

Future Science Group will continue to spread the word about the PLS by announcing its publication on its social media channels. The Group will also share the PLS with relevant patient organisations.

Can Plain Language Summaries Recap More Than One Article?

Most PLS summarise one publication. However, occasionally, it can be useful to summarise a collection of related articles. For example, this might apply if an author plans to cover a cluster of studies on a specific treatment in a PLS. Future Science Group is happy to discuss plans for PLS that summarise multiple publications where relevant.

Does Future Science Group Link Plain Language Summaries to ClinicalTrials.gov?

Future Science Group links PLS that summarise data from new clinical studies to these studies' entries on ClinicalTrials.gov where relevant. The Group also ensures that every PLS includes the full citation of the original publication and links to this publication.

Is There a Fee to Publish Plain Language Summaries?

Future Science Group charges a fee to cover the cost of in-house processing from submission to publication. This fee also covers the design and layout of the PLS, the online hosting of the PLS, and the cost of making the PLS open access. The fee enables the Group to make PLS accessible to all readers who want to access the latest research in science and medicine.

Where Can Readers Find Plain Language Summaries?

Future Science Group publishes PLS as peer-reviewed articles in all of its journals, which delve into fields like oncology, nanomedicine, and regenerative medicine. Individuals, organisations, and universities from around the globe subscribe to these journals to access PLS, alongside a host of other invaluable resources.

About Future Science Group

Future Science Group is home to 34 peer-reviewed, open-access journals, each of which publishes the print and digital resources that keep scientific and medical communities up to date with the latest in treatments, technologies, and therapies. Readers can find these journals on the Future Medicine and Future Science websites. While Future Medicine publishes journals that focus on biosciences and clinical and translational medicine, Future Science publishes journals that focus on applied science and intellectual property issues in research and development.

Journals aside, Future Science Group also hosts a variety of events, creative services, publishing solutions, and digital hubs. Many of the Group's journals partner with the digital hubs, which have grown from small eCommunities to cornerstones of the Group. Meanwhile, the Group's events provide scientific communities with a space to partake in outcome-led discussions.

Each of Future Science Group's offerings supports its mission to join scientific and medical communities so that they can collaborate, innovate, and advance progression in their fields. Future Science Group may have grown into a leading publisher, but the Group has always retained its independent publisher culture. It also provides resources for several of its founder James Drake's philanthropic initiatives, including The Drake Foundation, the Troubetzkoy Archive Project, Of Lost Time, The Drake Calleja Trust, and The Drake Yolanda Award. 

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