Cath Ennis wrote back in June about the reluctance of some of her colleagues to write lay summaries of their work when applying for grants. Clearly for some scientists the effort of casting their work into a form that is accessible to the general public is just too much like hard work.
But, as has often been stated on NN, making our science intelligible to the public is a valuable activity. Indeed many would say it is necessary. And while I can certainly understand that some of us might prefer not to spend time on this at the end of the laborious process of assembling a grant application, that’s not much of an excuse.
So I wondered if there might be a way to make the process and the result more engaging and for my last grant application – an investigation of the peptide cleavage specificity of an important viral protease – I wrote the lay summary as a short story. In fact it was an extremely short story since there was a limit of 200 words. You can peruse the result at LabLit.
One of the main difficulties is finding ways of avoiding jargon but still getting the essence of the science across – all while staying within the word limit. I suspect I haven’t been wholly successful in this instance but practice makes perfect (!) and at least the composition was much more enjoyable than usual.
I humbly propose this as a new (and exciting?) way of writing lay summaries to really catch the public’s attention. Care to join the ring? For my next grant application, I am considering a more poetic form…
Shall I compare thee to a summers day?
No! A nonsensical hypothesis!
Your DNA sequence will show the way
And give a much truer diagnosis…
Then again, maybe not.