Plainly Speaking – Sharing Research with a Wider Audience Using Plain Language

If you’ve ever reached out to a librarian for information about a subject, you likely walked away with a stack of books, articles, videos, and other resources – enough to last for hours of reading or listening. Some of it might give you a basic understanding, while some might lead you to explore more deeply. However, if you are not a researcher or an industry insider, you might find jargon-filled articles or statistics-packed books a challenge, particularly if you are just learning about the topic.

Getting research out to the public is important, however, and even highly technical research can be shared with nonresearchers. Creating plain language or lay language summaries of research studies offers a way for researchers to share their results with as wide an audience as possible. These summaries may include definitions and descriptions with less jargon or fewer statistics, but the important information still comes across. These may be published as research briefs, articles in magazines, blog posts, or even videos and infographics. It’s a skill to take complex research information and make it understandable to an audience of varied reading levels, but that skill can help get that information into the hands of people who need it.

Here are a few examples of plain- and lay-language summaries from NIDILRR-funded projects published recently:

The Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Place-Based Solutions for Rural Community Participation, Health, and Employment publishes research briefs and factsheets on its research in these areas.  Explore their collection of research findings, including factsheets, research briefs, and the Geography of Disability series.

The RRTC on Employment of People Who are Blind or Have Low Vision publishes plain language summaries of its research articles. These summaries focus on the practical takeaways to ensure readers can easily find what they need and reduce possible misinterpretations.

The Self-Employment Starts with You project surveyed entrepreneurs with psychiatric disabilities to understand their experiences as business owners and provide information to aspiring entrepreneurs. The study results are summarized in three research briefs.

The research team at the Medical University of South Carolina has conducted many NIDILRR-funded projects on the long-term impacts of spinal cord injury on health, employment, and participation. Explore their collection of research briefs, alerts, videos, and factsheets.

These are just a few examples from the grantee community. In addition, our Research In Focus series selects studies from the grantees and summarizes their exciting findings in lay language for easier reading and sharing.

Are you a researcher interested in learning more about plain language?

  • Visit the Center on Knowledge Translation for Disability and Rehabilitation Research (KTDRR) and try their Plain Language Summary Tool to guide authors through the process of writing a plain language summary of a systematic review. This page also includes an extensive list of resources for plain language publication development.
  • Explore the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) collection of KT resources, particularly the section on Disseminating to Your Audiences, which includes plain language writing, factsheet development, and non-text options like charts, graphs, and comics. This collection also covers accessibility, so publications and products can be viewed, read, or heard by all potential users. These were developed for the Model Systems community but can be generalized to other research areas.
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