Lay abstracts and summaries: writing advice for scientists

J Cancer Educ. 2014 Sep;29(3):577-9. doi: 10.1007/s13187-013-0570-1.


Scientific journals, institutional review boards, and funding sources often require abstracts or research summaries written specifically for the lay public. Making research findings understandable to the public helps raise awareness and speed adoption of practices that may lead to improved health. We provide advice on writing lay abstracts and summaries which includes the following: (1) make reasonable assumptions about grade-level, vocabulary, prior experience, and interests of the audience; (2) practice a verbal explanation with someone from your audience; (3) start writing by using a simple headline followed by a brief and relevant synopsis in common language then expand; (4) read your draft aloud and revise; (5) check readability statistics and simplify as needed; and (6) have both lay audience and peer scientists read your summary to assure that it is accessible to the public while remaining true to the science.

MeSH terms

  • Abstracting and Indexing*
  • Biomedical Research*
  • Comprehension*
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Research Personnel*
  • Writing*