Taylor & Francis: A Push for Research Summaries in ‘Plain Language’

In News by Porter Anderson

Encouraging medical research writers to create plain-language interpretation of articles, Taylor & Francis promotes lay summaries.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Jacob Wackerhausen

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Supporting Research Accessibility’
Maybe more accurately called “lay summaries,” articles that interpret medical-research reportage can be a boon, obviously, to anyone not working in scientific fields and trying to follow technically challenged professional scholarly and academic publishing.

Taylor & Francis in England today (August 15) is doing something that some may see as counter to a traditional distinction between academic publishing and trade publishing—it’s making a move toward a non-specialist audience.

Its “plain-language summaries of publications” are being called by the company “PLSPs.” That, in itself, is hardly plain language, of course, but the promise certainly could be attractive to many potential readers including a pool the company says is made up of medical patients, policymakers, caregivers, and primary-care physicians.

Clearly, such sites as the Mayo Clinic’s “Healthy Lifestyle Consumer Health” demonstrate the popularity of high-grade medical information on the Internet. And the promise that Taylor & Francis is making about its plain-language summaries is that they’re to be “the latest medical articles” interpreted “through clear, jargon-free summaries,” peer-reviewed, open-access articles “written for non-specialist readers, so everyone can benefit from new research findings.”

You can see the publisher instructing its research writers on “How To Write and Publish a Plain-Language Summary” here. There, Taylor & Francis points out that it “encourages publication of a plain-language summary, but submission is not mandatory and not all journals offer” these treatments of their articles. At another point, it makes it clear that researchers bringing in co-authors on such plain-language approaches is a welcome thing, and this makes sense in cases in which a good layperson might be able to advise a researcher on what’s really clear to a non-specialist and what isn’t.

The rationale points Taylor & Francis offers for writing plain-language summaries may be attractive to many researchers. Those points include “expanding article reach and increasing audience engagement,” plus:

  • Improving equal and fair access to scientific research outcomes
  • Enabling audiences to translate complex science into practical knowledge and initiatives
  • Helping readers identify important information quickly and bookmark it for reading
  • Increasing the article’s readership and its associated metrics
  • Connecting with and influencing important stakeholders, practitioners, and other decision-makers
  • Expanding authors’ professional networks, raising their profiles in the scientific and wider communities
‘To Understand and Act On the Latest Knowledge’

In comments prepared for today’s announcements, Jonathan Patience is heard from first. He heads up the publication department at Taylor & Francis.

Jonathan Patience

“There are many groups,” Patience says, “who want to stay informed about the latest research, including patients, caregivers, and advocacy groups.

“Unfortunately, the technical language researchers use in articles written for their peers is not usually very accessible.

“That’s why we’ve introduced plain-language summaries of publications, to help many more people understand and act upon the latest knowledge.”

Kelly Soldavin

Kelly Soldavin, senior editor, says, “Plain-language summaries have become pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry best practice for supporting research accessibility, especially as an essential resource for improved communication between healthcare professionals and patients.

“We expect plain-language summary publications will be a welcome publishing option for researchers in all therapeutic areas.”

Trishna Bharadia, a patient-engagement consultant, has also been brought in to comment, saying, “With the general move in health care toward shared decision-making models, the need to be an informed patient and/or caregiver has never been as important as it is now.

Trishna Bharadia

“We’re in an age in which information is increasingly at our fingertips, especially through the Internet and the growth of open access, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the information is understandable for patients and the public.

“Plain-language summaries provide a perfect bridge between non-scientists and the scientific world, while at the same time helping to prevent misinterpretation and misinformation. This will be crucial in ensuring that patient communities are better able to make informed decisions about their care and treatment decisions. In short, these standalone articles can help to educate, inform and increase confidence for patients to have those important conversations with their healthcare providers.”

Taylor & Francis reports that it operates more than 340 medical and health-care journals, and is touting its support of “Open Pharma,” which focuses on “improving the transparency, accountability, accessibility and discoverability of published research.”

Reading Taylor & Francis’ Plain-Language Summaries

August 16: Updating our report here with some information on finding available plain-language summaries.

In response to our question, a company spokesperson says, “Many non-specialists already find their way to our site when they’re searching for information about their own or loved ones’ medical conditions. So now, when they do, plain-langauge summaries of publications will ensure there’s the accessible content they’re looking for.”

Taylor & Francis is also planning to use various social media to make these summaries more discoverable. A new editor has been hired for this, attached to the medical journals list, and patient-advocacy groups are expected to be one focus of that effort. In addition, the company says its authors are being encouraged to use social media to highlight the summaries.

And a central repository has now been added to Taylor & Francis Online with the plain-language summaries of publications brought together. This can be seen here: Articles With a Plain-Language Summary.

More from Publishing Perspectives on academic and scholarly publishing is here, more on journal publishing is here, and more on Taylor & Francis is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.