Papers in plain language

Kudos’s support for displaying plain-language summaries, which researchers can write to make their articles accessible to a wider audience, is particularly useful, Tananbaum says. The family members of someone with cancer, for example, may be better able to understand the context and significance of a medical study from a simple description than from the published abstract, he says. Tobias, similarly, says she hopes that the summary she has written for one of her papers will bring it to the attention of policymakers and resource managers.

But even researchers within one’s immediate field can benefit from such summaries, says Matthew Bowler, a scientist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Grenoble, France, and a Kudos user. The plain language makes it easier for them to understand a study’s context and significance, and to find research papers through general keyword searches.

That said, it takes time and dedication to make such resources pay off, Shipman says. It isn’t easy to translate research findings into something accessible to other disciplines, let alone to the general public. “Having access to a platform like Kudos is great in that it gives a place for your research story to live. But it does not make you a better story teller, and it does not help you reach and find an audience for that story,” he says. A poorly worded plain-language summary would be little better than the article abstract.

Some research journals already provide plain-language summaries for non-specialist readers, but these are often written by editors, not the authors themselves. Nature is one, and in June it started a trial of author-written summaries (although they are still edited by journal staff before publication). Over June and July, the journal released 500-word summaries of 12 previously published articles, says Nature editorial director Ritu Dhand. Meanwhile, eLife, which hires writers to produce plain-language summaries, as well as writing some in-house, posts around 10% of its ‘digests’ on the popular blogging platform Medium to broaden the journal’s audience, says Stuart King, associate features editor at eLife.

Personal decision

Each researcher must make a personal choice about how much time to spend promoting their work on social media. But judicious use of self-promotion, says Shipman, leads to visibility, which in turn can lead to increased citations and attract talented graduate students and postdocs to the lab. Yet scientists cannot simply flit in and out of the social-media landscape and hope to make a significant impact, Shipman adds. “Like any other relationship, it takes time and effort to build and sustain an online network.”

For researchers who might feel daunted by the breadth of the social-media landscape, Williams, who has given seminars in the United States and internationally on social media for scientists, offers simple advice: choose two or three social-media platforms, invest the time to get them set up, and then spend perhaps two hours a month keeping them current. If nothing else, he says, build a LinkedIn profile as an online CV, claim and update an ORCID ID, and log peer-review activities on

That said, a research paper is itself the end product of an extraordinary investment of time and energy. It takes thousands of hours of research, data analysis, writing and peer review, he says. “Shouldn’t you put at least 10 to 20 hours of work into making sure that you can get the message out to relevant people?”