Dr Terry Quinn: A stroke physician and academic’s experience of writing lay person summaries


Dr Terry Quinn

Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences

University of Glasgow

Earlier this year we became aware of some short lay person articles in the stroke field, written by a practicing physician and academic. We thought it would be interesting to interview the author of these pieces to find out what it was like to write content for a lay audience compared with the typical pieces of writing that he was used to producing, e.g. academic journal articles, grant applications, scientific presentations etc.

The author of these articles was Dr Terry Quinn, a Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Dr Quinn has a particular interest in how stroke affects different elements of cognitive functioning, is the lead investigator on a number of clinical studies in this field, and has published widely in the leading academic journals in this area of research. He also has ongoing clinical practice commitments as a Consultant physician in stroke units in Glasgow.

We thank Dr Quinn for his time in taking part in this interview, and for sharing his experiences of developing lay person summaries.

Please tell us about your work position, what this involves, and any additional responsibilities you have in your professional capacity

I am in an incredibly fortunate position in that I get to combine clinical work as a consultant stroke Physician with research. My research is predominantly funded by the Stroke Association and is themed around mood, memory and thinking problems following stroke.

I have a number of other editorial and committee positions but one which I am particularly passionate about is my role as chair of the patient, carer and public involvement (PCPI) group of the Scottish Stroke Research Network.

Why did you enter this particular field?

For me, Stroke was the perfect choice for clinical and research work. The clinical job mixes emergency care with longer term rehabilitation and no two days are the same. My research has always had a clinical focus thus my research informs my clinical work and vice versa.

What type of communications/literature outputs are you typically involved in producing?

As an academic I spend a lot of time writing research papers and speaking at scientific conferences. However, I am very aware that this is only one method of sharing my research and that these ‘traditional’ platforms can have fairly limited visibility. So, I have also been developing other methods of communicating science including public engagement events, blogs and media such as Twitter (you can follow me @DrTerryQuinn).

A recent development, that I am proud of, is my work with the scientific journal Stroke. I write a regular feature in the journal that offers a summary of recent stroke research. As well as the scientific version, I now also produce a plain language summary suitable for a non-specialist readership.

I wasn’t sure if this lay summary would find an audience but initial feedback has been really positive and it seems there is an appetite for more summaries of this kind.

Could you please describe your first experience of writing these lay person summaries?

Writing about science for a lay audience certainly takes practice. Anyone that says it is easy hasn’t done it (properly). I can’t say that I am an expert but I am learning.

I am lucky in that I have been able to share some of my attempts at plain language scientific summaries with people who are living with stroke and other conditions. Some of the initial feedback on my lay summaries was pretty blunt but I needed to hear this!

My experience of writing for a lay audience has improved my scientific writing. Now when I am writing a research paper or grant I can convey the science without relying on jargon or complex sentence structures

Why are lay person/patient summaries important in the medical/clinical trial sphere?

The best clinical research is completed WITH patients rather than done TO them. It is no longer acceptable, if it ever was, to make clinical research the exclusive preserve of academics.

However, ultimately it is the researcher who benefits as a good lay summary will help study recruitment, retention and broader dissemination.