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How to write a Plain Language Summary

Plain Language Summaries (PLS) communicate the significance of scientific research evidence to a broad audience, including patients and professionals in nearby disciplines, in jargon-free and clear language.

They can describe clinical trials and other original research, review articles, case reports, and congress abstracts, among other scientific publications. The submission of a PLS is optional, but encouraged.

Read on to find out why you should create one.

Why should I create a Plain Language Summary?

As an author, expanding the reach of your work by engaging with a wider audience can help you:

  • Enable the reader to capture the content quickly and bookmark the paper for reading

  • Attract more readers, increasing access to the article and its associated metrics

  • Connect with patients, caregivers, policy makers, and other decision-makers

  • Connect with non-specialist healthcare professionals

  • Improve access to scientific data in a format that is easy to understand

  • Translate complex science into practical knowledge and initiative

  • Expand your professional network and enhance your reputation

Crucially, PLS improve public engagement with science and medical research. By helping the public to understand biomedical research, researchers can contribute to raising awareness of its value and attracting further public support, engagement, and involvement.

How to write a Plain Language Summary

The PLS should be 250 words or less, written in plain English, and placed after the abstract and before the introduction, with its own heading (“Plain Language Summary”). For all technical specifications, read our PLS Guidelines for Authors.

For further information on how to write about biomedical and health research in plain English, please read the INVOLVE Plain English Summaries resource from the National Institute for Health Research.

Once your PLS is complete (or during the writing process), ask someone who doesn’t have any knowledge of the subject to read the PLS and provide feedback. They should find it interesting and be able to understand the study, its conclusions, and the potential impact of the research.

Take a look at a Plain Language Summary published in Postgraduate Medicine on the article page on Taylor & Francis Online, and indexed on PubMed.

We invite you to explore our published Plain Language Summary (PLS) articles, across our medical journals.

Graphical Plain Language Summaries

It’s important that a text PLS accompanies your graphical PLS. Only summaries that are 250 words or less and written in a plain text, continuous prose format can be indexed on PubMed.

You can submit a graphical representation of the PLS (graphical PLS) in addition to the written PLS, which will be published:

  • Below the abstract and text PLS on the article hosting page and;

  • Within the HTML and typeset articles.

  • Graphical PLS & graphical abstracts

While a graphical PLS serves a different purpose than a graphical abstract, the publication process is the same for both. Therefore, to make sure your graphical PLS can be considered for publication, please follow the guidelines we have in place for graphical abstracts.

If a graphical PLS and a graphical abstract are submitted, both will be published within the full-text HTML and typeset articles. However, only one can be published on the article hosting page alongside the plain-text abstract and plain-text PLS. Please let the journal editor know which graphic you would like published in that position when you make your submission. You will need to cite the other graphic as a figure in the manuscript, which will then appear in the HTML/typeset articles near the location of the first citation.

  • Supplementary material

Graphical PLS may also be published as supplementary material, which is published alongside the full-text HTML article under the “supplemental material” tab and hosted on Figshare as open access content. For these PLS, please include in the footer:

  • Article citation (e.g. author names, article title, journal abbreviation, year)

  • Link to the article on Taylor & Francis Online and/or article DOI

How do I submit a Plain Language Summary?

  • At time of manuscript submission (preferred).
    The PLS is peer reviewed at the same time as the manuscript, included in the published article, available with the manuscript’s abstract on the article hosting page, and indexed on PubMed. This is the preferred route of submission.

    • Post publication.
      This option is available for one year following article date of publication and incurs a processing fee of $1200/€1000/£850. Where possible, the PLS will be peer reviewed by the manuscript’s original reviewers. After acceptance for publication, the PLS is available alongside the manuscript’s abstract on the article hosting page. We will also add it to the HTML version of the article as a minor correction, and the correction notice will state that a PLS has been added to the article. However, it won’t be added to the typeset article (PDF version) or indexed on PubMed.

    For more detailed information on writing and submitting a PLS, download our PLS Guidelines for Authors.

    Copyright for your PLS

    PLS are subject to the same publication agreement or open access license as the published article. Please refer to the journal’s Instructions for Authors for the publication agreements and open access licenses available.

    Similar to journal abstracts, all PLS (including graphical PLS) are freely available to read at Taylor & Francis Online. You may freely share the article URL in articles, other written materials, and online.

    If you have any questions, please contact your Taylor & Francis journal editor. They can also provide examples of text and graphical PLS.

    Plain Language Summary quick guide

    Read through this handy guide to see where the different types of PLS can be found after publication. A single checkmark indicates that the PLS is free to access at that location, while a double checkmark indicates that the PLS is free to access at that location if the article is open access.

     Type of PLS Article Hosting Page
    HTML Article
    Typeset Article*
    Supplemental material
    Text PLS
    ✔✔ ✔✔
    Graphical PLS (single graphic)
    ✔✔ ✔✔
    Graphical PLS (multiple pages)
    Post publication† (text or graphical PLS)
    ✔ = free access; ✔✔ = free access if article is open access
    * Published online as PDF/ePub; published in print if journal offers print edition
    † Permitted for 1 year following article publication

          If you have questions about PLS, or queries about publication of PLS in a specific journal, please contact your T&F journal editor.

          Instructions for authors

          From word limits to referencing, find out everything there is to know with the instructions for authors. Find them on your chosen journal’s homepage.

          Key Policy Highlights

          Do you want to clearly communicate your scientific research to non-experts? Key Policy Highlights can support you with this.