Thursday 29 July 2021

Spotlight on Standalone Plain Language Summary of Publication Articles (PLSP), Future Science Group

- Shortlisted for the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing 2021

This year, the judges have selected a shortlist of six for the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing. Each finalist will be invited to showcase their innovation to industry peers at the ALPSP Awards session on Wednesday 15 September at the opening of the ALPSP Virtual Conference & Awards 2021. The winners will be announced on the final day of the Conference on Friday 17 September

In this series, we learn more about each of the finalists. 

Tell us about your organization

Founded in 2001, Future Science Group (FSG) is a scientific publisher focused on breakthrough medical, biotechnological and scientific research. From our small beginnings to our evolution into a leading global publisher of journals, eBooks, digital hubs and events, the nature of FSG has remained constant: we are independent, future-focused, and passionate about the sharing of scientific ideas.

What is the project/product that you submitted for the Awards?

There is a huge amount of interest currently in plain language content – material that translates the findings of original research into a format that is understandable by non-specialists (from patients and their caregivers to Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) and decision-makers). We saw a real need to improve the availability and discoverability of this extremely valuable content, and to address this, we have introduced a new standalone article type – the Plain Language Summary of Publication (PLSP).

Tell us a little about how it works and the team behind it

Over the past couple of years, we’ve both been lucky enough to be involved in various projects related to plain language content, including participation in a PLS of Publications Workshop held by Envision Pharma Group and working with Patient Focused Medicines Development on the creation of a how-to guide for multi-stakeholder co-creation of plain language summaries of peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations. We have also been focusing on FSG’s own plain language offerings, including the development of PLSPs. PLSPs provide a summary of a recently published research article (both from FSG and non-FSG journals) to be read and understood by non-specialists, and facilitate knowledge dissemination, patient–physician dialogue and the improvement of the care pathway.

PLSPs are submitted like any other article and undergo full peer review prior to acceptance for publication. Not only do we conduct internal review to ensure the information from the original study has been accurately conveyed in the PLSP, all PLSPs are sent out for external review by subject experts and experts in plain language content, including patients and patient advocates. To help with this, we have assembled an Advisory Panel of experts, listed on our dedicated website, who conduct these reviews for us, along with additional individuals we approach on a case-by-case basis for each article. 

Once accepted for publication, the PLSP is laid out using a specifically designed visually enriched template featuring graphics, call-out boxes and even audio clips, to ensure they are in a lay-reader-friendly format. They are published open access to ensure they reach their intended readership, and as standalone articles they have their own DOI (making them citable and discoverable) and are indexed in the same way as all the rest of the journal content.

In what ways do you think it demonstrates innovation?

Many publishers are starting to introduce or even mandate plain language options, such as short-form lay abstracts or the opportunity to include slightly longer PLS within an article’s supplementary materials. However, finding this content, or even knowing it exists, is difficult, with the content often buried within the paper or online material. We felt that this type of content is so valuable for non-specialist readers, it deserved to benefit from the advantages that a standalone article confers – the quality assurance of peer review, accessibility, discoverability and the highest production standards.

We are already seeing that our target audience (non-specialist readers) are discovering PLSPs. Through Altmetrics, for instance, we can see that patient organisations are posting links to relevant PLSPs on their Twitter feeds.

What are your plans for the future?

We’ve been really encouraged by the positive feedback and enthusiasm we have received for the PLSPs so far – since the publication of the first article in August 2020 (which, at time of writing, has been downloaded over 1,800 times), further PLSPs have been published or are in process, and we have received a huge number of enquiries from those interested in publishing PLSP in future. In addition, following a high level of interest, we are now introducing a writing service for plain language articles, separate from our editorial process, to further aid our authors in the publication of this content.

What has shone through for us since the start of this project is that there is clearly a need and a desire for content of this sort; we are continuing to look at ways to fine-tune and improve the PLSPs we publish, and are also looking to introduce some further plain language article types in the near future.

To our knowledge we are the first, and so far only, publisher to provide PLS as standalone articles, with all the benefits this confers in terms of quality and discoverability, and we hope to continue to build on this success with the publication of more and expanded plain language content.

For further information, please visit:

Visit the ALPSP Annual Conference 2021 website for more details and to book your place. 

The ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing 2021 are sponsored by HighWire

About the authors

Joanne Walker is Head of Publishing Solutions at the Future Science Group, having been with the company since its conception. Joanne works across FSG’s journal and digital platforms to help medical publication/education planners identify the right publishing solutions for their content.

Laura Dormer is Editorial Director at the Future Science Group and has 18 years’ experience in the publishing industry. Laura is responsible for overseeing FSG’s journal portfolio, and has a particular interest in journal development, publication processes and publication ethics.

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