Writing for a lay reader

For some of our funding schemes, we ask applicants to write a summary in a style suitable for ‘the lay reader’. When we ask for this, it’s because the assessment process for that scheme will generally involve people without specialist knowledge of your subject area. Writing in a clear and jargon-free style helps assessors to get a clear overview of a project’s aims and methodology—and to make a judgement on the case for supporting the application.

Why we ask for information ‘suitable for the lay reader’

Decisions about which applications should be funded by the Trust are taken by the Board, assisted by a number of other assessment panels which offer recommendations for support.

Assessment panels are comprised of senior academics with considerable experience of evaluating research proposals; their membership does not, however, necessarily include anyone with a detailed or highly specialist knowledge of your specific subject area. When considering whether an application should be recommended for support, panel members will take careful note of the comments of any referees consulted. But they will also form their own judgement on a project, and the lay summary is crucial for that. When we ask for information that is suitable for the lay reader, it’s essential, therefore that you write in a way that allows non-subject-specialists to come to a clear understanding of your proposed research.

This is particularly true if your application is for one of those schemes where the Leverhulme Trust Board has a direct role in making funding decisions. In an arrangement that reflects the wishes of the Trust’s founder, Lord Leverhulme, the membership of the Board is drawn from the most senior levels of Unilever. This means that there there are no academic post-holders on the Board. While Board members are seasoned decision-makers, with wide-ranging experience, they do not necessarily have knowledge of, for example, the technical terms used by scientists and social scientists. That’s why it is important to provide a summary that offers a serious and substantial overview of your proposed research – but one that is suitable for a lay reader.

What do we mean by a ‘lay reader’? We think of a lay reader as educated and informed, but without detailed knowledge of any particular field and its technical language. Writing for a lay reader means: not assuming any background knowledge about your subject area; spelling out in the clearest terms your research objectives, methodology, and intended outputs; and explaining any technical or specialist terms (even when you have given an explanation elsewhere in the application).

Which funding schemes does this guidance apply to? This guidance applies to any scheme where we ask for information in a format suitable for a lay reader, but it has particular relevance for applicants to our Research Project Grants and International Network schemes.