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Competition to make science comprehensible

The online biomedical resource Europe PubMed Central announced the winner of its first Access to Understanding science-writing competition on 11 March.

Anna Kinsey, engagement manager for Europe PMC, says the competition has a different focus to other science-writing prizes. “We were asking people to write about something that had already been published as a research article…our emphasis wasn’t on [writing] something that you’d read in a newspaper,” she says.

Entrants, who were all PhD students or early-career researchers, were asked to write an easily comprehensible 800-word explanation of one of nine pre-selected papers.

The winner, Emma Pewsey, PhD student in materials science at the University of Cambridge, beat nearly 400 other hopefuls with her summary on detecting focal osteoporosis.

Sharmila Nebhrajani, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, led the competition’s judges. She explains that writing summaries for lay readers is a particular skill. “These articles were not aimed as newspaper articles. I think this is a different writing muscle.”

She says that writing in this way is becoming more important. “We are increasingly having, amongst patients and the public, lay readers of articles who are very interested and motivated to find out about research and what it means for them.”

Kinsey says the competition recognises that, although Europe PMC makes research available, this is not necessarily the same as making research understandable. “Although it’s freely there for somebody to read, it doesn’t mean that it’s easily understood, so we were trying to take that a step further,” she explains.

Kinsey says she hopes that such summaries will become more common. She notes that some journals, including eLife, which will be publishing Pewsey’s winning article, and PLOS Medicine, include them as a matter of course.