A Cochrane Plain language summary is a stand-alone summary of a Cochrane Review written in plain English. It briefly describes the key question and findings of the review. It is clearly set out, uses words and sentence structures that are easy to understand, and avoids technical terms and jargon. A clear, simple summary written in plain language helps people to understand complex health evidence. Cochrane Plain language summaries are freely available on cochrane.org and in the Cochrane Library in a range of languages. The aim is that anyone looking for information about the key points of a Cochrane Review can read and understand them.
The Cochrane Library Editorial Board recently approved new guidance and template for writing Plain Language Summaries in Cochrane Reviews. The guidance replaces the previous set of standards, the Plain Language Expectations for Authors of Cochrane Summaries (‘PLEACS’), it has been incorporated into the online version of the Cochrane Handbook. The template headings and guidance have also been incorporated into our recommended intervention review template.
The guidance and template have been developed by the three Plain Language Summary writers hired by Cochrane as part of a pilot in 2020: Nicole Pitcher, Denise Mitchell, and Carolyn Hughes. The guidance can be accessed as a supplement to the Reporting Chapter of the Cochrane Handbook. The guidance does not only draw on the experience of the PLS project, it looks to previous work including the original set of expectations outlined in PLEACS. However, it is no longer based on a set of standards, and instead focuses more on describing how authors and editors should approach the process of writing in plain language and using the GRADE statements to describe the results of systematic reviews.
The template has a new standardised set of headings, including a top line 'Key messages'. You can view the headings and guidance in our recommended intervention review template. Editorial teams are encouraged to use this template, to ensure the new headings are included in all new titles registered via Editorial Manager. Headings can also be copied from the template into protocols and reviews in progress. The template has been developed from work on intervention reviews but examples from diagnostic test accuracy reviews are also incorporated in to the guidance. If you have any queries about using review templates, or incorporating the new headings into your existing template, please contact Cochrane Support: email@example.com.
For all ongoing reviews in the pre-submission phase, authors are expected to write their Plain Language Summaries according to the new template and its associated guidance. For reviews that have been submitted for editorial process it is advised but not expected for them to adopt the new template for the Plain Language Summary.