9 February 2021
Susan Pywell has been a member of the ARC West plain language panel since it first started in June 2017. The panel reviews our plain language summaries, as well as giving feedback on study recruitment materials. Here she blogs about her experiences of being on the panel.
I’ve always liked words. And for years I’ve wanted to do something to help health research.
Unusual health issues have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents were once both hospitalised with an illness so rare and difficult to diagnose it ended up on an episode of “House”! So I was really excited when I found out about the opportunity to be a plain language reviewer for ARC West. Using my love of words to help health research – how could I resist?
In the years that I’ve been on the panel I’ve reviewed plain language summaries of a really wide range of research that directly impacts people’s lives. I was really happy to see a flyer in my local GP containing one of the summaries I’d reviewed – on autism in the Somali community. Another highlight was attending the launch of some new information materials for people who inject drugs. The materials had been developed in collaboration with Bristol Drugs Project service users, to help them switch to safer injecting equipment. Members of the community spoke about what the project had meant to them. Although I play a very small part in these projects, seeing the impact they have on real people gives me a real lift. I feel like I’ve contributed in a small part to making the world a better place.
It’s also been a joy working with ARC West, particularly Zoe and Mike. I remember the first meeting of the newly recruited panel members. None of us knew what to expect. Zoe walked us through what we were being asked to do and we all left enthusiastic and keen to be sent our first review. The panel meets regularly and it’s great to be reminded of the impact of what we’re doing. It’s also fun to meet other word nerds and discuss our pet peeves, or hear about particular terms or phrases that cause other members confusion.
The skills I’ve learned on the panel have also helped me in other ways. I’ve been interested in proofreading for a long time but never had the confidence to find out how I could do more of it. Since I started with the plain language panel I have become a volunteer health information reviewer for Alzheimer’s Research UK and a volunteer proofreader for Project Gutenberg.
I’ve also been able to help the people around me. A relative recently had a health scare and wanted to know if taking a particular supplement would help. I was able to read and summarise some of the more technical information for her, creating my own plain English summary, to help her understand the pros and cons better.
Finally, during the time I’ve been on the plain language panel I’ve also been completing a degree in Health Sciences. Writing about complex concepts in a way that can be understood by non-experts is a key skill you are expected to develop in that degree. I recently graduated with First Class Honours and I am sure that my time on the panel helped me get there.
Who knew that all of this could come from liking words!
If you want to find out more about the NIHR ARC West plain language panel please get in touch with Mike Bell.