A comprehensive guide to write a lay summary

A lay summary explains the central ideas and other aspects of a research project. It is written with the purpose of presenting scientific and technical terms in a simplified manner to the general audience who do not have knowledge about the subject area. Researchers usually submit lay summaries along with their grant applications. Lay summaries also help them achieve wider public engagement.

A lay summary, or impact statement, is concise and brief, conveying the essence of your research article. It outlines the contents of the article that could be easily understood by readers from non-technical field. It answers the main research question and provides the specific details to the readers. If you want to write a lay summary, define your target audience first. Write down the goals, purpose, and aim of your research in bullet points so that you can explain the intention behind the research project. Explain what you wish to achieve and how it will impact the research and scientific communities.

What is the importance of writing a lay summary?

A scientific paper is a result of the application of research methods used to derive data and potential outcomes. A paper is written in a specific field of study and consists of jargon and complex scientific terminologies that makes comprehension difficult for non-specialists. A lay summary is written in a manner to present a research document to the general audience and make it easy to understand.

Why write a lay summary?
  • It explains research matter to the non-expert
  • It helps researchers explain why research is done
  • It explains how research will impact the research community
  • It increases chances of researchers receiving grants
  • It helps research participants easily understand research feasibility
  • It describes the process of clinical trials
  • It helps participants decide whether or not to get involved in trials
Things to keep in mind while writing a compelling lay summary

Context: Describe the context of your research. What is the aim of the research? What is the expected output? What is the reason behind choosing a specific research question? Are there any studies published in your chosen field of research?

Objective: What are the research objectives? List at least 3–4 objectives that clearly explain the aim of your research and what you expect to find.

Strategy: Have you developed a strategy for executing your research? Describe what you wish to do all through the project in a step-by-step manner. Do you think the strategy would be effective enough to obtain accurate results?

Impact: Write an effective statement describing the impact of your research. Explain how your research objectives would benefit the community.

Participants: Who are the research participants? Mention the age group and other characteristics that clearly define the participants. Also, explain how the involvement of participants would impact research methods and outcomes.

Basic characteristics of a lay summary document 
  • Language quality: While writing a lay summary ensure there are no grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors. Follow applicable conventions based on the target audience.
  • Sentence structure: Write in an easy-to-understand format. Keep sentences short, clear, and to the point. For improving the readability of text, you can break a long sentence into paragraphs to avoid complex sentence structures. Avoid using complex vocabulary and scientific terminology.
  • Organization: Text should flow naturally and cohesively, for which you can introduce one idea at a time and avoid information overflow. Delete complex terms and phrases that could be hard to understand for the general audience.
  • Verb form: Write in an active voice to express your ideas clearly. It will help you convey your thoughts and ideas better. Also, phrase sentences positively.
  • Guidelines: Follow writing guidelines such as word count and format provided by the university or funders while submitting the lay summary. In case the summary exceeds the word count, give it a re-read, and remove unnecessary words without altering the original meaning of the text.
  • Subject: Titles of your summary document should provide a brief introduction. It should also answer the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your research. Readers should be able to correlate answers with the research problem.

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