What is a Plain-English Summary?


The goal of a plain-English summary is to provide a concise version of peer-reviewed work that is accurate, comprehensible by the non-expert, informative and perhaps even enjoyable.  One project at GlacierChange.org is to provide an online venue for the ‘publication’ of plain-English summaries.  It is our hope that the individuals advancing the science of glaciers and glacier change will take the time to write plain-English versions of their peer-reviewed work, and consider utilizing GlacierChange.org as a venue for online publication.

Dr. Alan Betts, in a letter to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), writes:

“In the past 40 years I have published almost 150 papers.  Although they were all funded by the public, they are all unintelligible to the public, because they are written in scientific English, and specifically the language of one small branch of science.”

In recent years Dr. Betts has begun writing articles that are intelligible to both scientists and the public, and publishes these in newspapers and on his personal website.  In his letter to BAMS Dr. Betts suggests that authors should be required to write such articles and that journals should be required to publish both plain and scientific English versions of academic papers.

In lieu of publishing plain-English summaries in a journal, GlacierChange.org has started a project to publish summaries online.  The first plain-English summary was published at GlacierChange.org on July 15th, 2011:  “Plain-English Summary:  Glacier Water Resources on the Eastern Slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains“.  The format for this initial summary includes:

  1. A “tweetable” summary of < 140 characters
  2. A < 500-word summary in plain English

Additional content for this initial summary includes two primary figures, additional images, and links to information on climate scenarios and other previous work.

Please consider writing plain-English summaries of your peer reviewed work and publishing them at GlacierChange.org.

To submit: Send “tweetable” and <500-word summaries along with any images and links to connect@glacierchange.org.

The plain-English summary project at GlacierChange.org is a work in progress, and we would appreciate your input:

What makes a quality summary?  Would a bullet-point format be beneficial?  Is a 500-word summary too restrictive or too long?  Are the summaries understandable and informative?

Please feel free to respond to these questions, and voice other concerns and suggestions in the comments for the post.

Looking forward to your collaboration at GlacierChange.org!


All Plain-English Summary posts at GlacierChange.org

Dr. Allan Betts’ letter to BAMS

Dr. Allan Betts’ paper in EOS:  Communicating Climate Science

Dr. Allan Betts’ Newspaper and Opinion Pieces

Leave a comment:


Atty. Gerry T. Galacio

March 19, 2012

The hyperlink for “Plain-English Summary: Glacier Water Resources on the Eastern Slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains“ is broken since it uses the term “http” twice [http://http:/glacierchange.org/2011/07/plain-english-summary-glacier-water-resources-on-the-eastern-slopes-of-the-canadian-rocky-mountains/].

The correct URL should be “http://glacierchange.org/2011/07/plain-english-summary-glacier-water-resources-on-the-eastern-slopes-of-the-canadian-rocky-mountains/”.


March 19, 2012

Thank you, Gerry!

Michael Max Hentz

May 9, 2015

I have personally believed that all federally funded / state funded research should require a “plain-english” summary (high school equivalent level) for many years. Independent of scientific discipline (medicine, biology, physics etc.) many important understandings have been uncovered by scientists, but only shared with a small cadre of similarly trained scholars. However, the usefulness of these discoveries would both educate and inspire many others if they were communicated in a more accessible way.
Thank You Sincerely,
Michael Max Hentz
Mid Klamath Watershed Council