Part three – The reasons
Plain-English summaries allow biomedical and health research findings to be shared with the wider community. But why is this important? What are the benefits of writing about science for a broad audience? Why should you bother?
Science isn’t finished until it’s been communicated.
Professor Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government
(Keynote speech, Access to Understanding competition awards ceremony 2014)
1. Increase understanding of publicly funded science
The public should be able to read about and understand the research that they are paying for. Helping the public understand biomedical research will raise awareness of its value and may help attract further public support and involvement. By communicating research in an understandable way, your audience will be inspired to learn more.
2. Understand the user’s viewpoint
Connecting the public with biomedical research through a plain-English summary can help develop a dialogue between researchers and those who use the outcomes of that research. This can help scientists understand the needs of patients, health professionals, and other members of the public, enriching the relevance and responsiveness of the research. This deeper understanding can inform future research directions and funding priorities, and increase recruitment to clinical trials and public health studies.
3. Improve your communication skills
Being able to write about science in plain English is a valuable and transferable skill. For example, you may need to write a plain-English summary of your proposed research as a part of a grant application or for an institutional report. In broader terms, any job roles you will want to apply for in future will very likely require an ability to write in a clear, precise and engaging way.
4. Increase visibility of your research
Describing your research in a way that is accessible to a wider audience will increase its readership, and so its visibility. Politicians, policymakers and other decision-makers value clear, concise, plain-English summaries of research evidence. Greater visibility can lead to increased collaborations and funding opportunities beyond your existing network.
5. Get inspired!
Writing a plain-English summary can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. It can help you think about your research from a different viewpoint. Rethinking how you describe your work allows you to reflect on the concepts and ideas that got you excited about it in the first place. Taking a step back from your research allows you to look at it in a fresh light. Your plain-English summary may even help inspire the next generation of budding scientists!
Funders, researchers and clinicians have a moral duty to help improve the way we communicate about research. Our responsibility is to get it right from the start, in how we write that first article or paper from the bench. That’s why Access to Understanding is such an important initiative.
Simon Denegri, National Institute of Health Research Director for Public Participation