Plain Language Summary of Publications

A plain language summary (PLS) is a concise synopsis containing key take-home messages from a piece of research in a manner that is easily understood by lay people, including patients and the general public. Although lay audiences are interested in medical developments, the scholarly language and terminologies used in medical journals can limit their understanding of the research results. Thus, the PLS can be developed to effectively communicate the findings of clinical trials or publications, such as abstracts, journal articles, or congress presentations, to lay audiences.

The PLS that accompanies publications can be found in scientific or medical literature databases such as PubMed. It is usually located at the bottom of abstracts either as a continuous prose or in the form of bulleted questions to enhance engagement with the reader. It is essentially meant to provide lay audiences with easy access to scientifically credible and understandable data. As a result, the PLS is generally drafted with the expectation that it can be comprehended by a middle-school student with no medical literacy. This can be achieved by simplifying complex concepts/data and reducing technical jargon. The text in the PLS can either be enhanced with graphics or fully replaced by infographic elements. The PLS with graphical components is suitable for use on journal websites, social media, or websites of pharmaceutical companies. Occasionally, the PLS can also be a full-length article that serves as in-depth informative material for people with limited scientific background. Regardless of the chosen format, the PLS should be a standalone piece with its own structure that can independently communicate research findings without the need to refer to the main publication.

Text-based PLS is usually under 250 words, generally adhering to the important content of the publication, and is consistent with the conclusions of the abstract. Key pieces of information to be included in the PLS are drug approval status, existing knowledge of the therapy area, study objective, study patient population, primary/secondary/all endpoints, what the study adds to the existing knowledge, how the study is likely to impact clinical care, and study limitations as applicable. The text-based PLS is recommended for a wider reach, as it is more amenable to translation into other languages for local dissemination compared with the graphical PLS.

The PLS can be developed to target a broad audience, including but not limited to healthcare professionals, patients and caregivers, the general public, nonspecialist researchers, media, and policymakers.

PLS can benefit diverse audiences

PLS has multiple practical applications

There is increasing evidence to suggest that PLS improves the understanding of research findings particularly among nonspecialists. This can enable experts and policymakers to understand the implications of new findings, put research into context, avoid misinterpretation of data, counter misinformation, and facilitate decision-making. Additionally, given the emerging role of patient participation in clinical research, many pharmaceutical companies are now including PLS in their publication plans to make their research accessible to patients. Owing to the simple and easy-to-understand nature of PLS, patients can know how the research is useful to them and what they can do with it.

Importance of PLS

Thus, the PLS has been recognized as an important component in a variety of publications. 1,2 Bioviser has the expertise and experience to help you prepare the PLS in order to enable you to improve the reach of your research findings to broader audiences, especially among those with a limited knowledge of medical terminologies, and overcome the barriers of technical jargon used in medical publications.


Lobban D, Gardner J, Matheis R. Plain language summaries of publications of company-sponsored medical research: what key questions do we need to address? Curr Med Res Opin. 2022;38(2):189-200. doi:10.1080/03007995.2021.1997221

Martínez Silvagnoli L, Shepherd C, Pritchett J, Gardner J. Optimizing readability and format of plain language summaries for medical research articles: cross-sectional survey study. J Med Internet Res. 2022;24(1):e22122. doi:10.2196/22122


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