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Writing a good lay summary

Diabetes UK grant applications are reviewed by the Grants Advisory Panel (GAP): a group of lay reviewers affected by diabetes. Their role is to reflect the collective perspective of people living with diabetes.

GAP have considerable personal experience of diabetes, but may have little scientific knowledge. As such, it's important that you think about your lay reader and read our guidance on writing a good lay summary before completing this section of the application form.

In many cases, GAP will only read the lay summary to make their assessment about the research, so a well-communicated lay summary is essential. It is worthwhile asking someone without a scientific background to read your lay summary before you submit the application.

For project and early-career small grants, GAP’s input directly influences the funding decisions made on research grant applications.

From time to time, individuals from GAP will be called on to feed into specific targeted calls. At present, GAP does NOT review fellowship or studentship applications. However, a good lay summary helps the wider public to understand what you're doing, and may increase the chance of the study being adopted or sponsored.

Review criteria for lay panel members

The Grant’s Advisory Panel will comment and score your project based on:

  • How relevant it is to people with diabetes and its potential impact;
  • Clarity on how long until the work could make a difference to people living with diabetes and how realistic the timescale is;
  • The clarity and quality of the writing and how well the research is communicated;
  • If the research involves people living with diabetes: how well the researcher has taken their needs into account, whether they would volunteer to take part as a participant and how feasible the recruitment plan is;
  • The extent of involvement of people with diabetes in the preparation of the application and the management of the study.

Translating scientific summaries into lay language

A good lay summary should include:

  • Context: Why are you doing the research? What is the motivation behind the research application? Were the questions and outcome measures informed by patients’ priorities, experience, and preferences?
  • Aims: State clearly the aims and objectives for a lay audience. What do you hope to find?
  • Strategy: Describe clearly what you are actually going to do throughout the project.
  • Impact: Explain how achieving the research objectives will benefit people with diabetes and what the next proposed action will be if the research objectives are not met.
  • Data on the number of people affected by the condition (e.g. for a specific complication of diabetes).
  • Details of how people with diabetes will be involved in the study design, delivery and/or as research participants. How will they be supported (e.g. will they be provided any training?) and what incentives will they receive for their involvement?
  • Details on whether patient involvement impacted the methods to be used in the research.
  • Timescale to impact on the lives of people with diabetes, and reasons why.
  • Basic science applications must clearly demonstrate how your research relates to diabetes and how it could provide valuable insights for future research and/or translation into clinical practice.

A good lay summary should avoid:

  • Detailed explanations of what diabetes is – lay readers are likely to know a lot about this and will want to know more about the particular research project.
  • Unnecessary jargon, abbreviations and technical terms wherever possible. If you have to use them provide a clear explanation.
  • Wordy sentences. Try to keep sentences short and simple, less than 25 words.
  • The whole scientific story. It’s a short summary – what are the ‘take-home messages’?
  • Using the scientific abstract with a few word changes. It is usually obvious when this is done, and it is important to realise that the lay summary is not the same as the scientific abstract.

Helpful resources

  • INVOLVE ‘Make it Clear’ campaign – Guidance on how to ensure each research study has a clear and concise plain English summary.
  • Access to Understanding - Guidance is for anyone who is planning to write about biomedical or health research for a non-specialist audience.
  • Plain English campaign – Guidance on how to avoid jargon when communicating your research.
  • Readability calculator - Computer-calculated index which can tell you roughly what level of education someone will need to be able to read a piece of text easily.

Example lay summaries 

Example 1 

Previous research has identified that the largely unstudied protein PPP1R1A, normally expressed at high levels in pancreatic beta cells, is lost from many beta cells in Type 1 diabetes. We hypothesise that PPP1R1A is an important regulator of the state of phosphorylation of Mda5, a sensor protein involved in mediating anti-viral responses. 

Our research has shown that a protein called PPP1R1A is usually found in insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, but seems to disappear in people with Type 1 diabetes. We believe that this protein plays an important role in helping the body respond to virus infections. 

Example 2

People of Black West African origin have 2-3 fold higher risk of Type 2 diabetes than White European origin, but respond less favourably to early prevention and treatment. Detailed metabolic phenotyping will be carried out in order to define the ethnicity-specific pathophysiology behind the progression to Type 2 diabetes for men of Black West African and White European origin. We know that ethnicity plays an important role in the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and can also influence how well people respond to treatments. We will study the metabolisms of Black West African and White European men, to find out whether the biology behind why a person develops Type 2 diabetes is different. 

Example 3 

Adolescent patients with Type 1 diabetes are at increased risk of renal and cardiovascular complications. We propose to conduct a randomised controlled trial contrasting the effects of ACE inhibitor, statin or combination therapy in 500 adolescents at high risk of renal complications. The primary endpoint of a reduction in albumin secretion relating to each drug will be measured.Young people with Type 1 diabetes can be at a higher risk of diabetes-related complications, like kidney damage and heart disease. We are testing whether two drugs – ACE inhibitor and statin – can prevent kidney damage in 500 young people at risk of developing this complication. To see if the drugs work, we’ll be looking at how much albumin (a protein that indicates kidney damage) is in their urine. If the levels of albumin drop, it suggests that the drug could prevent diabetes-related complications in young people. 

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