Tactic #3: Be concise and add a plain language summary
Communicating your research to a non-academic audience is like talking about your work to a member of your family—you need to keep things simple and clear. Here are some key elements to consider:
What’s more important—what you say or how you say it? When it comes to non-academic audiences, the answer is both. Develop a writing style that is specific and concise. Shorter articles are much easier to absorb. Use active language and definitive statements, and choose an interesting and brief title that clearly describes your research. Moreover, avoid jargon and academic buzzwords that can easily cause confusion. You should also spell out any acronyms—especially in your title—so your research is easy to understand and discover.
You can consider adding a plain language summary (PLS), especially if your research topic is particularly complex. PLSs are clear, short, standalone documents that summarize the contents of scientific and medical research for non-specialist audiences, including patients, the public, non-native English speaking professionals, media and science communicators, or policymakers. A study analyzing article metrics found that 60% of articles with a PLS were accessed significantly more than those without one.
You should write your plain language summary in a way that is accessible and understandable to a broad, non-expert audience. Plus, your summary should reflect the same scientific messages and conclusions as your scientific paper. You can also consider alternative formats other than text, such as infographics, visual or video abstracts. For instance, there is evidence to suggest that articles with video abstracts have 82% more full-text downloads.
Writing for non-academics can be challenging regardless of your discipline as it requires using a different language style and set of principles. Yet, communicating your research in a way that speaks to the needs of different groups can lead to a more significant impact beyond academia.