New Media

Is Your Society Trying to Increase Diversity and Inclusion? Here’s a Simple Tool

While disseminating knowledge to achieve real-world impact, academic Societies need to keep diversity and inclusion in mind. If a Society wants the public to use or benefit from research in its field, that research must be accessible to different sections of public. To be truly accessible, research findings need to be more than just “free”; they should also be presented in simple language and easy-to-use formats. A text summary of the aims, methods, findings, and implications of the research, couched in non-technical language, is a good starting point. These “plain language summaries” (Lay summaries) are one of the simplest tools available for Societies to expand their reach to population groups with diverse characteristics:

Different education levels

Research is not meant for just the well-educated. For example, there’s no disease that exclusively affects university graduates. Terms like “control group” seem simple English but are in fact unlikely to be clear to people who have never been to college. PLS(Lay summary) can help readers with limited education get an accurate idea of what happened during the study and how the findings affect them. In medicine and public health, misinformation and distortion of scientific evidence has serious consequences for people’s lives and livelihoods, as seen in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Different academic backgrounds

Conventional journal articles are often jargon-heavy and hence difficult to understand for researchers from other disciplines. PLS(Lay summaries) make it easier for any researcher to grasp the key findings of a study, reducing the time and effort spent in acquiring and assimilating information. In this way, PLS(Lay summary) can foster interdisciplinary collaboration.

Different geographies and language capabilities

English is not the first or native language for a significant proportion of the world’s population. It is not even used for higher education in many countries. A Society rooted in the US or UK might find it difficult to meaningfully engage with people in large parts of Asia, South America, and Africa. PLS(Lay summaries) are not only quicker for such audiences to process in English itself, but are also easier than full-length papers to be translated on the spot with free online tools or apps.

Different financial capabilities

Academics often have access to vast university libraries and institutional accounts with major publishers. They find it difficult to imagine having to spend a significant amount out of pocket to just be updated about their fields. When PLS(Lay summaries) are published outside any article paywall, key scientific evidence becomes available to anyone with Internet access, regardless of their financial status.

In the current COVID-19 pandemic, public trust in science has sharply declined, even as the role of scientists has become increasingly critical. Journals are Societies’ most-used platform for sharing research advances, but journal articles are not the public’s preferred source of information, especially in healthcare. Technical, convoluted language deters non-specialists from reading journal articles. PLS(Lay summary), by making research more accessible, help Societies inform, influence, and engage with diverse population groups.

Marisha Rodrigues

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