Access to Understanding

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Anna Kinsey (Europe PubMed Central Engagement Manager) talks about the inspiration for the science-writing competition ‘Access to Understanding’.

a2u compAbout the Competition

Now in its second year, the Access to Understanding competition challenges PhD students and early career post-doctoral researchers to summarise cutting-edge life sciences or biomedical research in plain English. The competition was born from the vision of published, scientific research being truly accessible to all.

Each year billions of pounds of public money is spent on scientific research. While online, open access to current research is becoming increasingly more widespread (thanks to the efforts of groups such as the Europe PMC funders, which includes the Motor Neurone Disease Association), many scientific findings are currently only accessible to a niche audience due to the use of highly technical language. A crucial component in making scientific knowledge truly accessible is communicating it in a way that is understandable to non-specialists.

The competition seeks to raise awareness amongst researchers of the increasing importance to the general public of being able to access and understand innovative research. Entrants were particularly inspired by this opportunity to hone their science communication skills.

Why is Europe PMC involved?

Access to, and understanding of cutting-edge developments in science by the public is increasingly recognised as bringing a valuable and insightful contribution to the advancement of science.

Some of our core users are patients who are seeking information relevant to their condition. While Europe PMC is a comprehensive source of original research findings, the Europe PMC Funders recognise that more can be done to make these advances in scientific understanding more accessible to our (non-scientist) users. One step in bridging the gap between providing access and enabling understanding would be to provide an easy-to-understand summary with every research article published. This is the inspiration for Access to Understanding.

What is Europe PMC?

Europe PMC is a free life sciences and biomedical information resource, backed by a growing number of European research funders, who expect their supported researchers to make their published research available to the widest possible audience via Europe PMC. It enables anyone with internet access the ability to search and discover over 28 million abstracts and full-text articles from around the world.

Using Europe PMC you get free access to:

  • nearly 3 million full text, peer-reviewed published journal articles
  • all the PubMed abstracts (over 23 million article records)
  • over 4 million biological and medical patents records
  • details of nearly 50,000 grants awarded to nearly 25,000 researchers

To access Europe PMC visit

Making science easy to understand

We asked competition entrants to write a summary of a research article so that an interested member of the public would understand. Entrants were required to explain the research and why it matters in no more than 800 words. Ten recent articles were specially selected by Europe PMC funders for inclusion in the competition, including one selected by the Association. Research topics spanned basic to clinical to cognitive science and highlighted several major diseases. The articles are all freely available via Europe PMC.

Our judges selected the winning and shortlisted entries, and prizes were awarded by the UK’s Chief Scientific advisor Sir Mark Walport. These entries can each be read on the Europe PMC blog – the best entry about the MND Association article is here. More information is available on the Access to Understanding competition page, where you can also download a competition booklet containing all the winning and shortlisted entries as well as watch a short highlights video of the award ceremony.

Why am I involved?

As Engagement Manager for Europe PMC, a large part of my role is about raising awareness of the Europe PMC resource and the competition is a fun way of doing that. However, for me, the competition is much more than that. It’s fantastically hard work – for a lot of people. But that’s part of what makes it such a great project to work on – because when I ask all these people to give up a large chunk of their time they do so willingly and enthusiastically, because they all, like me, really believe in what this competition is about – Access to Understanding.

The MND Association’s vision is a world free from MND. Realising this vision means investing more in research, further developing partnerships with the research community, funding bodies and industry, while ensuring that advances in understanding and treating MND are communicated as quickly and effectively as possible. Our Research Development team, composed of 11 members, work hard to achieve this. Principally, the Research Information team within this are involved in communication activities including this MND Research blog.