August 27, 2019 – Morris Animal Foundation not only funds animal health studies, we also provide a platform for researchers to communicate their projects and results to the broader general public. Communicating science effectively is (almost) as important as doing science. But for researchers accustomed to the drier platforms of grant writing and scientific journals, making their science approachable for the lay public can be challenging.
Why Lay Language Science is Important
As part of our granting process, the Foundation requires a lay summary of each researcher’s project. Writing a lay language description of a scientific project is a great way for researchers to start sharing their studies with a broader audience.
If others know about and understand your work, your research can have a major impact on animal health. People vote, help make laws and donate to causes dear to their heart. In addition to scientifically minded donors, Morris Animal Foundation information reaches lots of veterinarians who will ultimately put what veterinary researchers and wildlife scientists find into practice.
Let’s Get Writing!
1. Know Your Audience
Think about your family members. Not your family members who are rocket scientists, but your parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins who are well-read, thoughtful and intelligent citizens of the world. These family members may not have had more than a high-school level science class, but they want to continually learn more. Keep it simple, engaging and avoid jargon.
2. The Magic Threes
Always cover the three basics. Explain the problem, your aims and (most importantly) why the public should care about it. Let people know how your findings will help improve the health and well-being of animals, in the short-term, long-term or both.
3. The Public Loves Stats and Facts
If you have a statistic on the incidence of the disease, survival rates, treatment success, include this in your description. When data is hard to come by or just doesn’t exist, you can describe findings from recent studies or share known disease facts.
- Despite treatment, approximately 85% to 90% of dogs with osteosarcoma succumb to metastatic disease within two years of diagnosis.
- Recent studies have shown the gut microbiome (bacteria, viruses, fungi that live in your intestinal tract) plays an important role in training your immune system.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common form of heart disease diagnosed in cats.
4. Not a Scientific Abstract
This is not for your multiple-credentialed colleagues at a conference. While you should describe the health problem and how you plan to solve it, you don’t need to explain the intricacies of how you plan to get there. If you need to describe your procedures and methods for clarity, keep it brief. One or two lines will suffice. Avoid going down the processes and procedures rabbit hole.
For instance, readers may not care that much about wash-out periods or specific doses of drugs for a certain species, as important as that is. But they do want to know what the drug is used for, how you plan to use it and why.
5. Explain Science-Speak
The words and acronyms you use every day in the lab or field typically don’t pop up in everyday language. It’s easy to overwhelm your audience with lingo that only your science tribe understands. That said, the people who support scientific research still want to learn new terms and directions in science. Use your science words judiciously and take advantage of a great opportunity to explain and teach.
- CRISPR is a highly precise gene-editing tool used to correct a misspelling in the genetic code.
- Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) are used to identify genes linked to certain diseases.
6. Keep it Short
While your scientific colleagues may want to know every detail and possible pitfalls and solutions to your experiments, the general public just wants a snapshot. Try to keep your description between 120 and 180 words.
7. Check out an example
Lay-language descriptions of current and recently completely Morris Animal Foundation-funded studies are found on our Find A Study search tool on our website. Read a few and get inspired!