What is a plain English Summary?

A plain English summary is a brief summary of a research project that is used to explain complex ideas, as well as technical and scientific terms to people who do not have prior or in-depth knowledge about the subject.

The intended audience for these summaries can be diverse and may include:

  • Clinicians, prescribers or other health care personal
  • Patients, patient research partners, caregivers or patient advocacy groups
  • Payors, members of regulatory agencies, or other stakeholders
  • Members of the general public
  • Researchers from other fields of study

A plain English summary is intended to explain why the research is being suggested, what researchers aim to achieve, and how this may impact health care, the rest of the research community and people’s quality of life.

Plain English summaries can also go by other names, including:

  • Lay Summaries
  • Plain Language Summaries
  • Lay Abstracts

How does ISOQOL use plain English summaries?

ISOQOL uses plain English summaries published in JPRO and QLR for communication purposes, including but not limited to:

  • The ISOQOL Newsletter
  • Press Releases
  • Social Media
  • Other ISOQOL publications

Why is submitting a plain English summary with a manuscript important?

Adding a plain English summaries to your paper submission will help broaden the reach of the article and bring it to the attention of a wider audience. Researchers are trained to be highly focused, specific and conservative with extrapolation and speculation. These attributes are useful for scientific publication, but not for wider public understanding. Many non-scientist have difficulty understanding technical terms and jargon. Most will need more context-setting and help drawing a conclusion.


Plain English summaries are meant to be a quick explanation of your research and its impact. This is especially useful for current and potential stakeholders who are not researchers. Those whose careers do not center on research, may not spend much time – if any – reading through long peer-reviewed manuscripts. By condensing what matters to them in a short summary, your work is more likely to catch their attention.


Patients can come from a broad range of educational backgrounds. By removing as much jargon as possible and explaining what little jargon you decide to include in plain terms, patients are more likely to understand what it is you are trying to accomplish. If a patient does not understand what is happening during a clinical trial and why, they may be less inclined to participate. Having a resource for them written in plain terms explaining the impact of the research they participated in is crucial for continued participation and future patient recruitment for clinical trials.

Health Care Providers

Health care providers have limited time to devote to reading about new research – even when knowing this information could greatly impact their ability to effectively treat patients. Condensing your research into a short explanation that is easy to read and understand quickly, increases the chance of it being noticed and applied to health care practices.

General Public

Acceptance of research and science by the general public matters. It can influence policy, support and funding. Summaries of your research written in plain English are less likely to be misinterpreted by people with lower scientific literacy.


Attracting the notice, support and confidence of the people described above will demonstrate accountability to donors and funders – increasing your chances for more funding in the future.

The International Society for Quality of Life Research (ISOQOL) is a global community of researchers, clinicians, health care professionals, industry professionals, consultants, and patient research partners advancing health related quality of life research (HRQL).

Together, we are creating a future in which patient perspective is integral to health research, care and policy.