Future Science Group's journals now include standalone, citable plain language summaries, each designed for non-specialist readers.
Publishing the outcomes of scientific research is essential to helping clinicians, researchers, caregivers, and patients learn about key developments in medical treatments and care. But many scientific journals only publish jargon-heavy, technical information that most non-specialist readers must work hard at to understand, especially when it comes to working through scientific complexities and heavy data analysis.
It's no surprise that the medical arena has seen a growing demand for scientific research that non-specialist readers can access and understand. To meet this demand, the progressive scientific publisher Future Science Group has launched a new publishing initiative to help all readers access breakthrough scientific and medical research: plain language summaries (PLS).
Plain language summaries are clear, concise recaps of virtually any scientific publication. Authors (usually researchers and clinicians) write the summaries using non-technical language that all readers can understand. They also include helpful infographics and other images to make the material as easy to digest as possible. By providing a summary of a published scientific article with the technical jargon removed, a PLS helps all audiences understand the literature. In turn, this helps foster patient-caregiver dialogue and helps patients understand their treatment plans.
Readers don't have to read and understand the original publications before reading the PLS to gain a full understanding of the topics covered. Instead, these summaries offer all the information readers need to grasp from a jargon-heavy publication. The idea is that a PLS offers an easy route to information collation for a lay audience.
Future Science Group now includes PLS as peer-reviewed articles in all its journals. The group publishes an extensive variety of medical and scientific journals that cover topics spanning from oncology to 3D printing in the medical space. Organisations, universities, and individuals all over the world subscribe to these journals.
Future Science Group recognises that it's important for a PLS to be both accessible and discoverable, which is why the group tags and allocates each with a unique identification number - a digital object identifier (DOI). This makes every PLS fully citable, indexable, and easy to find on relevant databases.
To make accessing PLS easy, Future Science Group makes the summaries free to download under a CC BY-ND Open Access license. This license allows readers to copy and distribute the material providing they credit the original publication. Future Science Group also shares PLS widely on social media and with relevant patient organisations so as many people as possible can access these summaries and further their knowledge of medical research.
A PLS can summarise any article, regardless of whether published by Future Science Group or an alternative publisher. Future Science Group's goal is to provide accessible summaries of as many published articles as possible. When the group publishes a PLS that an author has adapted from a different publisher's article, the PLS must become an 'Acceptable Secondary Publication' in line with the ICMJE guidelines. This status confirms the PLS is not a duplicate of the original publication.
Future Science Group's editors welcome the creation of PLS based on any reputable scientific or medical publication, including original reviews and research articles.
Different publishers define plain language content in different ways. For example, a Future Science Group lay abstract is a short paragraph that summarises an article's key points. A lay abstract appears alongside a scientific abstract within an article and is usually around 120 words long. On the other hand, a PLS is much longer than a lay abstract and summarises the whole publication. The summary may also include digital media to help readers understand the content quickly and easily. Unlike a lay abstract, a PLS may appear as a standalone article or as supplementary information alongside an article.
Many PLS include a range of digital media, such as images, illustrations, infographics, video, and audio content. Digital media often makes it easier for readers to understand complex information and data. All media undergoes editorial review before Future Science Group embeds the content into the final article.
Usually, the authors of an original publication also write the related PLS. However, this isn't always the case. Sometimes, additional authors, such as patients themselves, join the original authors to write the PLS content. This way, patient authors can provide their own perspectives on the topic in question. Future Science Group encourages at least one member of the original publication's committee to get involved in writing the PLS where possible. Ideally, the original author should at least review the content before submission to ensure the PLS author(s) has conveyed all information appropriately.
The EU Clinical Trials Regulation 'Summaries of Clinical Trial Results of Laypersons' stipulates that each PLS should have a reading age of 12 years +. Future Science Group recommends that authors use a readability score evaluation tool like the Flesch-Kincaid test to check whether they've achieved this reading level before submission.
It can be challenging to convey complicated concepts and data in plain language, and some authors need a helping hand to achieve this. That's why Future Science Group offers a complete writing service to help authors convey key information without losing the meaning of the original publication.
Future Science Group's expert writing team works with authors at each stage of the writing process to help them develop a PLS framework based on the original publication, obtain relevant permissions from the original publisher, draft content in plain language, and source graphics/illustrations. Future Science Group can also assist in the creation of bonus digital add-ons like videos, animations, and audio content. Once Future Science Group has helped an author write a PLS, the author may submit their summary for publication in a Future Science Group journal.
Authors can also request Future Science Group's checklist for writing an effective PLS and seek further advice on the publication process from the group's advisory panel.
Once an author(s) has submitted their PLS for publication in a Future Science Group journal, the group puts the summary through its double-blind peer review and editorial process to decide whether the material is suitable for publication. The external peer review process ensures that every PLS offers an accurate representation of the original content and that a non-specialist audience can understand all material included.
Future Science Group is now seeking patient reviewers for its PLS peer-review process. Get in touch to learn more.
When publishing PLS, Future Science Group charges a fee to cover the cost of in-house processing from submission to publication, including the design and layout of the final publication, online hosting of the article on the relevant Future Science Group website, and making the article open access. The fee makes it possible for Future Science Group to make the PLS freely accessible to all readers who want to understand the latest research on the medical and scientific scene.
Most PLS summarise one original publication. However, in some circumstances, it can be useful to cover a group of related articles. For example, this could apply if a PLS were to cover a cluster of trials on a specific treatment. Future Science Group is happy to discuss the possibility of PLS that cover multiple articles with authors.
Where relevant, Future Science Group links PLS that summarise data from new clinical trials to the trials' entries on ClinicalTrials.gov. All PLS also include the full citation of (and link to) the original publication.
Future Science Group aims to help as many people as possible understand scientific and medical literature, and its new PLS initiative provides the gateway to improve this knowledge share.
'Having worked in publishing for over 20 years, I have seen a massive shift towards open-access publishing, making published research accessible to medical and scientific audiences,' says Future Science Group's Head of Publishing Solutions Joanne Walker. 'It, therefore, seems only natural to publish PLS to ensure all audiences, regardless of their scientific background, can understand the latest published literature.'
'It has been great to see the shift towards patient-centered healthcare over the years I have worked in medical publishing, and central to this is patients and other non-specialists being provided with the information they need to guide healthcare decisions,' adds Editorial Director Laura Dormer. 'PLS are a crucial part of this.'
Future Science Group's recent plain language summaries cover vital updates in medicine, including a new treatment for achondroplasia and a study in non-small-cell lung cancer. The group's PLS on the DESTINY-Breast-01 study has also generated a lot of traction. This study involved participants receiving a potential new breast cancer treatment called trastuzumab deruxtecan (T-DXd), a chemotherapy drug linked to a manmade antibody. Various organisations, including AstraZeneca and Oxford PharmaGenesis collaborated to create the PLS, which was then reviewed by patients, patient advocates, the public, and healthcare professionals.
Philanthropist and entrepreneur James Drake founded Future Science Group in 2001, providing a home for breakthrough scientific, medical, and biotechnical research. Now a global publisher, Future Science Group receives more than 5 million article downloads every year and has, to date, published more than 50,000 articles. Approximately 1,000 experienced editorial board members from a variety of scientific and medical disciplines advise on the group's extensive portfolio.
Today, Future Science Group curates trusted print and digital resources for scientific and medical communities. The publishing group produces 34 cutting-edge, peer-reviewed scientific journals, including Biotechniques, Future Oncology, Nanomedicine, and Regenerative Medicine, alongside a vast selection of events, creative services, publishing solutions, and digital hubs like RegMedNet and Bioanalysis Zone. The group's mission to assemble scientific communities and provide a platform for collaboration, innovation, and translation underpins each of these offerings, ensuring the highest quality at the core of the scientific publishing landscape.