Open Pharma recommendations for plain language summaries of peer-reviewed medical journal publications

Curr Med Res Opin. 2021 Nov;37(11):2015-2016. doi: 10.1080/03007995.2021.1971185. Epub 2021 Sep 12.


Plain language summaries of peer-reviewed medical journal publications are a means of sharing research with a broad range of audiences and may improve the transparency, accountability, accessibility, discoverability, and inclusivity of medical research. There is currently an ongoing, industry-wide effort to establish consensus on plain language summaries, and initiatives are already in place that provide detailed guidance on plain language best practice, co-creation methods, patient-focused content, graphic and digital considerations, and publisher-specific guidelines. However, there remains a need for a foundational set of recommendations that complement existing initiatives to outline the minimum steps needed to develop discoverable, plain language summaries that are trustworthy, credible, and of high quality. Here, we present the Open Pharma recommendations for plain language summaries of peer-reviewed medical journal publications. These recommendations were initially developed by the Open Pharma Accessibility workstream and were extensively reviewed and refined during an expert roundtable and a focused, public consultation. Open Pharma is a multi-sponsor collaboration of pharmaceutical companies, non-pharmaceutical funders, publishers, patients, academics, regulators, editors, and societies seeking to identify and drive positive changes in the publishing of pharmaceutical company-funded research. We recommend that plain language summaries should be in the style of an abstract, free of technical jargon, unbiased, non-promotional, peer reviewed, and easily accessed. Plain language summaries should also meet the technical requirements to be indexed in directories such as PubMed. Ultimately, these recommendations are intended to be a concise outline of a minimum standard that provides top-line guidance on plain language summaries for authors, medical writers, publishers, and research funders.

Keywords: Plain language summary; accessibility; discoverability; inclusivity pharmaceutical research; public engagement.

Plain language summary

PLAIN LANGUAGE SUMMARYArticles published in peer-reviewed medical journals are written using technical language. Plain language summaries are short summaries of these articles, written in everyday language that is easy to understand by anyone interested in medical research. This can include patients, patient advocates, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and policymakers. Sharing research through plain language summaries makes medical information more accessible and inclusive. However, few medical research articles include plain language summaries. The pharmaceutical industry has an opportunity to improve everyone’s understanding of medical research by regularly developing plain language summaries of their articles. Plain language summaries can come in many different formats such as infographics and videos. However, text-only summaries are the easiest to find on internet search engines and research websites such as PubMed. Currently, there is limited guidance available to help researchers and medical journal publishers develop plain language summaries for their articles. In this article, ‘Open Pharma recommendations for plain language summaries of peer-reviewed medical journal publications’, we suggest a set of simple rules to help authors make and share text-only plain language summaries that we believe are possible for all articles reporting medical research. Once these have been met, we encourage researchers to consider making and sharing infographics and video summaries as well, to help people to understand their research even more.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Publishing*