Plain language summary format

Cochrane Norway's PLS template and checklist

How to write a Cochrane Plain Language Summary

Checking a Cochrane Plain Language Summary

About our PLS template

Staff at Cochrane Norway have worked for several years to explore the best ways of summarising Cochrane reviews in plain language. While our primary target group has been patients and the public, the formats are aimed at any reader who is interested in the review topic but who is not necessarily familiar with systematic reviews.

Our plain language summary format is a 1 - 2 page synthesis of the results from Cochrane systematic reviews. Authors begin with a GRADE Summary of Findings table and combine this content with information from the review about the intervention and the condition. Each summary includes:

  • An introductory statement making it clear that the information comes from a systematic review rather than a single study
  • Information about the condition and the intervention, and the outcomes in question
  • A summary of the main findings of the review, including an assessment of the certainty of the evidence.

Much of this work has involved qualitative research exploring how patients and the public perceive evidence; user testing of different plain language summary formats; and a randomised trial of different language summary formats. Key collaborators in this work have included Nancy Santesso from the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Review Group.

How are our plain language summary formats currently being used?

Cochrane Norway has collaborated with several groups and organisations to write plain language summaries:

  • Summaries for the Cochrane Complementary and Alternative Medicine Field (English)
  • Summaries for the Cochrane EPOC Review Group’s Norwegian Satellite (English)
  • Summaries for the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services (Norwegian)
  • Summaries for the Norwegian Midwifery Association Journal (Norwegian)
  • Summaries for the Norwegian Nursing Association Journal (Norwegian)

Our work has also informed the development of the Cochrane Collaboration’s MECIR standards for the reporting of plain language summaries in new reviews of interventions.

Relevant publications from staff at Cochrane Norway

Glenton C. Assessing the feasibility and acceptability of approaches for improving the quality of Plain Language Summaries in Cochrane Reviews: a pilot study. Final report. Cochrane Norway, 24th February 2017 

Glenton C, Santesso N, Rosenbaum S, Nilsen ES, Rader, T, Ciapponi A, Dilkes H. Presenting the results of Cochrane systematic reviews to a consumer audience: A qualitative study. Medical Decision Making, 2010 Sep-Oct; 30(5):566-77.

Santesso N,Glenton C, Rosenbaum S, Strømme Nilsen E, Rader T, Pardo J, Ciapponi A, Moja L, Schünemann H.  A new format for plain language summaries: does it improve understanding, and is it useful and preferable? A randomised controlled trial.  17th Cochrane Colloquium.  Singapore.  October 12, 2009.

Santesso N, Glenton C, Lang B. Evidence that patients can understand and use? Zeitschrift fuer Evidenz, Fortbildung und Qualitaet im Gesundheitswesen, 2008, 102.

Glenton C, Kho M, Underland V, Nilsen, ES, Oxman A. Summaries of findings, descriptions of interventions and information about adverse effects would make reviews more informative. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 2006, 59 (8): 770-778.

Glenton C, Nilsen ES, Carlsen B. Lay perceptions of evidence-based information - a qualitative evaluation of a website for back pain sufferers. BMC Health Services Research, 2006, 6:34.

Glenton C, Enabling evidence-informed patient choice. PHD dissertation, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, 2006.

Glenton C, Paulsen EJ, Oxman AD. Portals to Wonderland? Health portals lead to confusing information about the effects of health care. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 2005, 5:7

Glenton C. Developing patient-centred information for back pain patients. Health Expectations, 2002; 5(4): 319-329



This work has been supported through funds provided by the Cochrane Collaboration Steering Group and the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services.