Plain Language Summaries

22 March 2024

 What Are Plain Language Summaries?

It is widely acknowledged that scientific information needs to be made more accessible to a broader audience, including patients, non-specialists, and the general public. The technical language and jargon used in scholarly articles can act as a barrier to further understanding. Plain Language Summaries are published alongside the scientific abstract, and are written in approachable, non-technical language. They are designed to allow the scholarly article to be understood by non-specialist audiences. They are usually written by the authors of the original publication, although related members of the public may have been consulted.

It is highly recommended to have your Plain Language Summary reviewed by at least one person with Parkinson’s disease before submission. If you do not have people with lived experience within your own network, the journals editorial board members are available for assistance: Please contact the editorial office first at

Beyond informing the interested readership of the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, the Plain Language Summary can be disseminated across social media and shared with relevant organizations to increase awareness among those who are interested in the research topic of your article.

The Plain Language Summary is peer-reviewed alongside the original article.

Writing a Plain Language Summary

1.    Plan your Plain Language Summary

Think carefully about your intended audience. Consider why your research should matter to them and what details may need to be expanded so that the reader can understand how your research was carried out and what the findings mean. Be certain to ask yourself “is this necessary information” when writing your Plain Language Summary. It should be balanced and accurate, avoiding speculation, exaggeration, or personal opinions. Do not assume the readers have prior knowledge on the topic.

2.    Convey the message of your research in plain language

Use short concise sentences; use simplified terms and avoid jargon and acronyms; write in an active voice but avoid superlatives and metaphors if possible. Do not merely swap out jargon with simplified terms. Your Plain Language Summary should be stylistically distinct from your abstract in order to accurately convey your research in a reader-centric and useful way for non-specialists.  

3.    Present your data

Avoid complicated statistics or non-essential numbers. Use whole numbers, displayed as absolute numbers, percentages, or natural frequencies (e.g. 1 out of 10 people). Do not expect readers to do any calculations.

4.    Check the quality of your Plain Language Summary

Have at least one person with Parkinson’s disease read your Plain Language Summary and explain it back to you. Use their feedback to ensure your reader will have an accurate understanding of your article. 

When writing a Plain Language Summary, it is essential to capture the purpose, methods, results, and importance of your research. All Plain Language Summaries should include the following items listed below. Additionally, we have included prompts to assist you in Plain Language Summary writing.

1.    Aims and purpose of the research 

•What is the research question you are exploring? 

•What is/are your hypothesis(ese) or expectations prior to conducting the study?

•What do you hope to find out?

2.    Background of the research

•Why study this specific research question? Why does the research matter?

•What is the scale of the issue? How broad is the topic (i.e. who is impacted by this research)? 

3.    Methods and research design

•What was your research design and why is it best method for exploring this issue?

•What are the key variables/participants involved in your research?

4.    Results and importance

•What did you find out? Was it what you expected or not?

•Why should we care about these results? What are the implications of these results? 

•What is the key message you wish to share? 

3.Examples of Plain Language Summaries

Example 1: Clinical Research article abstract

Article Title: Boxing with and without Kicking Techniques for People with Parkinson’s Disease: An Explorative Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial


Background: People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) benefit from boxing exercise. Adding kicking variations to the boxing may provide additional benefit to improve balance. However, the benefits and adherence to such trainings is unknown.

Objective: To explore the feasibility, safety, and benefits on balance of boxing training combined with kicking techniques in comparison to boxing without kicking in PD.

Methods: Participants were randomized to group-based boxing training with kicking techniques (BK) or to group-based boxing alone training (BO). Both groups trained for one hour, once a week, for a period of 10 weeks. Participants were assessed at baseline and ten weeks post-intervention for difference in balance, fear of falling, balance confidence, walking ability, and quality of life.

Results: Twenty-nine people with PD (median age 64 years; median disease duration 5 years) participated. Both interventions were feasible and acceptable for all participants. No adverse events occurred. Most participants (BK 80%; BO 75%) were satisfied with the training. We found no significant between group difference on either the primary (Mini-BEST) or secondary outcomes. The within group comparison showed that balance improved in both groups after the intervention (BK 22.60 (2.7) to 25.33 (2.64) p = 0.02; BO 23.09 (3.44) to 25.80 (2.39); p = 0.01 on the Mini BEST test).

Conclusion: Both types of boxing seem to be feasible and safe. Adding kicking techniques to boxing does not improve balance significantly more than boxing alone. Incorporation of kicking may be a valuable addition to the exercise therapy repertoire.

instructors in current and future boxing classes being delivered in the community. 

Plain Language Summary. 

Boxing appears to be an effective treatment for persons with Parkinson’s disease. Thus far, studies mostly looked at punching movements of the arms, but this new research examined whether adding additional kicking movements with the legs would add further benefits. The researchers were also interested whether the addition of kicking movements would make the exercise program more palatable for the participants, leading to a better compliance. Twenty-nine persons with Parkinson’s disease participated in boxing classes for a total duration of 10 weeks, and they were divided into two groups: punching with the arms only; or punching combined with kicking of the legs. Both types of boxing were feasible and acceptable for all participants. No adverse events occurred. Balance improved in both groups after the boxing classes, but the benefits were equal for both types of boxing. It is therefore not necessary to include kicking movements to gain greater clinical benefits from boxing, but incorporating such kicking movements remains potentially valuable as a way to make the exercise repertoire more versatile for participants.

Example 2: Basic Research article abstract


Background: Braak and others have proposed that Lewy-type α-synucleinopathy in Parkinson's disease (PD) may arise from an exogenous pathogen that passes across the gastric mucosa and then is retrogradely transported up the vagus nerve to the medulla.

Objective: We tested this hypothesis by immunohistochemically staining, with a method specific for p-serine 129 α-synuclein (pSyn), stomach and vagus nerve tissue from an autopsy series of 111 normal elderly subjects, 33 with incidental Lewy body disease (ILBD) and 53 with PD.

Methods: Vagus nerve samples were taken adjacent to the carotid artery in the neck. Stomach samples were taken from the gastric body, midway along the greater curvature. Formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded sections were immunohistochemically stained for pSyn, shown to be highly specific and sensitive for α-synuclein pathology.

Results: Median disease duration for the PD group was 13 years. In the vagus nerve none of the 111 normal subjects had pSyn in the vagus, while 12/26 ILBD (46%) and 32/36 PD (89%) subjects were pSyn-positive. In the stomach none of the 102 normal subjects had pSyn while 5/30 (17%) ILBD and 42/52 (81%) of PD subjects were pSyn-positive.

Conclusion: As there was no pSyn in the vagus nerve or stomach of subjects without brain pSyn, these results support initiation of pSyn in the brain. The presence of pSyn in the vagus nerve and stomach of a subset of ILBD cases indicates that synucleinopathy within the peripheral nervous system may occur, within a subset of individuals, at preclinical stages of Lewy body disease.

Plain Language Summary.

A protein named α-synuclein forms clumps or aggregates in the brain in Parkinson’s disease. Researchers have proposed that this abnormal clumping of α-synuclein may start in the stomach and then travel up a nerve (named the vagus nerve) to the lower portion of the brain. To test this proposal, we examined postmortem stomach and vagus nerve tissue using a method that can identify a form of α-synuclein found in aggregates (termed p-serine 129 α-synuclein or pSyn). Postmortem tissue was obtained from autopsies of 111 elderly subjects without Parkinson’s disease, 33 without Parkinson’s disease but with α-synuclein aggregates in the brain, and 53 with Parkinson’s disease. We found no pSyn in the vagus nerve of subjects without Parkinson’s disease. In contrast, we observed pSyn in the vagus nerve of 46% of subjects without Parkinson’s disease but with α-synuclein aggregates in the brain and 89% of subjects with Parkinson’s disease. In the stomach, we found no pSyn in the subjects without PD, while we observed pSyn in 17% of subjects without Parkinson’s disease but with α-synuclein aggregates in the brain and 81% of subjects with Parkinson’s disease. Since we saw no pSyn in the vagus nerve or stomach of subjects without α-synuclein aggregates in the brain, these results suggest that α-synuclein clumping starts in the brain, not in the stomach. The presence of pSyn in the vagus nerve and stomach of some subjects without PD but with α-synuclein aggregates in the brain indicates that α-synuclein clumping may also occur outside the brain for some people before they are diagnosed with PD.

4.Reviewing a Plain Language Summary

What to look out for when reviewing a Plain Language Summary

The Plain Language Summary should be a true reflection of the research presented, written in an engaging and accessible way, without exaggeration. Both merits and limitations should be discussed. However, patronizing language should not be used and the Plain Language Summary should not be a ‘dumbed down’ version of the study. 

When authors are writing a Plain Language Summary, we ask them to follow these guidelines:

•    Avoid jargon and use everyday terms to convey the key messages from the article. If technical 

terminology or abbreviations are used, the term should be explained when it is first introduced.

•    Define the ‘who, what, why, when, where, and how’ of the research. It may be useful to provide direct answers to the following questions:

     o    Why was this study done?

     o    What did the researchers do?

     o    What did the researchers find?

     o    What do the findings mean?

•    Use short, clear sentences. 

•    Use an active voice rather than a passive voice. For example: ‘we reported several side effects’ instead of ‘several side effects were reported by us’

•    Use absolute numbers, natural frequencies (e.g. 1 out of 10 people) and percentages – don’t expect the reader to do any calculations 

•    Avoid p-values and instead describe practical outcomes

•    Ensure that the conclusion/take home message is clear

•    Address implications and guidance for action, if relevant

When reviewing the Plain Language Summary, we want you to read it and provide feedback to the authors on how they can improve it to make it more accessible whilst keeping the above points in mind.

Why is it important for Plain Language Summaries to be reviewed?

There are many readers of articles focusing on Parkinson’s disease research who are interested in the results, but who are not clinicians or researchers in the field (e.g. patients, patient advocacy groups, caregivers, engaged members of the public). The Journal of Parkinson’s Disease wishes to make sure that all readers can understand the aim and result of the article. By reviewing you can help us ensure the Plain Language Summary is accessible and accurate, to allow people who are not clinicians or researchers in the field understand the key points of the article.