A new format for Plain Language Summaries: does it improve understanding, and is it useful and preferable?

Article type
Santesso N, Glenton C, Ciapponi A, Stromme Nilsen E, Pardo Pardo J, Rader T
Background: Many research organisations now have a mandate to translate their research evidence to patients and the public. How to successfully translate it, has not yet been determined. Plain Language Summaries (PLS) of Cochrane reviews aim to summarise the research evidence from systematic reviews in a manner that is short, precise, and understood by consumers. A random sample of published PLS revealed errors and low quality presentation. To ensure a higher quality, a template for a new format of the PLS has been developed and user tested. The template now includes standardised statements of the effect and the quality of the evidence, and a table of results. This new format has not yet been rigorously evaluated. Objectives: To evaluate the effect of the new PLS on consumers’ understanding of the main results of a Cochrane review and satisfaction compared to the original format. Methods: Consumers were recruited via consumer networks in Argentina, Canada, Norway and Spain. Participants were first randomised to receive a Cochrane review with the new PLS format or with the original format and then asked to complete a questionnaire evaluating understanding and satisfaction. Participants then received the alternative format and asked for their preference. Demographic data and familiarity with Cochrane reviews and research reports were also obtained. Results: Mean scores were calculated and compared between participants who received the original versus the new format. Preference was also compared. These results are presented and will determine whether the new format should be incorporated into Cochrane reviews or whether the format will need to be revised. Conclusions: Funding from the Cochrane Opportunities Fund 2007 has allowed the international development and evaluation of a new PLS format. The results of this study will inform the next steps toward understandable and useful PLS of Cochrane reviews.