I’ve been doing some digging around today to find out a bit more about lay summaries of research and found a couple of resources that might be useful to you if you’re struggling to render your complex research into a form your mum would understand!
The ability to write lay summaries is not easily acquired, but it is something that’s increasingly important in today’s ‘knowledge economy’. Not only do researchers often have to provide a lay summary of their research in funding applications, but they’re also increasingly expected to explain and justify their research to the general public. An ability to talk about your research, your approaches and the importance of your findings also has the potential to open up interdisciplinary collaborations which would never come about if researchers could not communicate across disciplinary boundaries.
Although primarily aimed at scientists (and Canadians), the advice on lay summaries at: http://www.hsf.ca/research/en/open-competitions/competition-faqs.html#6B is a useful starting point. I didn’t know, for example, that Word is able to offer ‘readability statistics’ as part of its spelling and grammar check – potentially quite useful if you’re trying to make a summary more accessible to the general population or a non-specialist who may be reviewing your grant application (details of how to switch the readability statistics on can be found at the website above). It’s also worth checking out the link to ‘Communicating your Research in Lay Language’.
During the next academic year the faculty will be running a couple of training sessions on applying for funding (both from the AHRC and the ESRC), and these will provide the opportunity to take a look at some lay summaries and to discuss them further.
You could even follow this lead and have a go at writing the lay summary in short story form: http://www.lablit.com/article/435 (although I’m not sure I’d recommend it!)