Tips for a proper NTS3 years ago
Are you wondering how to write a proper non-technical summary (NTS) of your research project? Read our tips and examples below.
The NTS may not seem like the most important part of your project proposal. It does not by itself determine whether or not you are granted a project licence, even though the Animal Ethics Committee (DEC) and the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD) may have issues with weaknesses of the NTS. Apart from this, its quality is an important aspect of transparency about animal experiments.
Besides appearing on our website (as part of the licence dossier), the NTS also appears on the website of the CCD, where all the animal experiments being conducted in the Netherlands are accessible to the public. The law requires this summary to be written in Dutch.
When you submit a project proposal to us, you receive feedback from the dossier holder and several other colleagues. The NTS also gets read by communications advisor Monique Janssens, who sees huge variations in quality: ‘We get some excellent NTS’s where it’s clear the writer has put a lot of work in, but others are impossible for lay people to understand and require many changes. Sometimes I see typing and spelling errors that could easily have been corrected by using the spelling checker, or you can still see Google Translate errors. I recommend that researchers who don’t speak good Dutch ask a Dutch colleague for help. It’s also fine to come to me for advice.’
Most of the feedback that Janssens gives people is about jargon: ‘The word “model” is already confusing for most people outside the scientific world. To them, it means someone who poses or models clothing. As a researcher, you’re so used to these kinds of terms that you easily overlook them.’ Janssens has a trick for this one: ‘Ring up someone you know who knows nothing about science, and tell them briefly what your research is about. The ordinary words will come to you automatically.’ If you still can’t replace all your technical terms, search the internet for an explanation or definition. Use sites like VanDale.nl, Wikipedia, synoniemen.net or just Google ‘[your term] betekenis’. English terms are often easy to translate into simple Dutch. Look at it as a fun puzzle to solve. Later, when you have to write up a press release about the results of your research, you’ll be prepared.
We also receive some very well-written NTS’s, such as this one (translated):
Far-reaching advances have been made in cancer treatment, which have saved or extended the lives of many cancer patients. These therapies are based on activating the patient’s own immune system. Tumours suppress this resistance. One aim of this project is to develop new medications that can interfere with the tumour’s action, so that a person’s own immune system can get rid of the tumour.
A layperson may still have to read it carefully, but the logical connections between the sentences and lack of technical jargon mean that with a little effort, virtually anyone can understand this paragraph.
One new trend that we like is that you can add illustrations and videos. Janssens: ‘When writing, one wants to sound more scientific, so one tends to make the sentences more complicated and use words in a higher register. Suddenly people say we’re ”conducting research”, while we normally say we’re “doing research”, which is just fine.’ However, an NTS doesn’t need to have only written text. Feel free to use additional images if they clarify what you want to explain. You can show how a mechanism or effect works with a video, or use an infographic to show complicated connections more clearly, or explain something in the text using photos. Do be aware, though, that the CCD website is set up for text, so the text must be complete, but you can insert links to external images.
What are you going to do with the animals?
Unfortunately, the NTS form, based on European Union regulations, does not explicitly ask about the animal experiment itself: what are you going to do with the animals, how often, and for how long? We think that this is what the public is interested in. As the Animal Welfare Body Utrecht, we encourage researchers to add this information when answering question 3.4, about any adverse effects on the laboratory animals. This is a logical place to describe the cause of these adverse effects, namely the ‘procedures’. This description does not need to be extensive. The following is a good example (translated):
We will give some of the animals a single injection in their side, which may result in the skin itching around the injection site. This is annoying for the animal and may cause it to scratch. The itching may last for one day.
Our tips in a row
Phase 1: make the content appropriate
- Fill out the NTS form as clearly as you can. Use the CCD’s guidelines (in Dutch) and the (English-language) European Animal Research Association’s guidance document. Do not name people, institutes or departments.
- Talk with someone you know, who is not knowledgeable about science, and tell them about your research, keeping your account as simple as possible. Record the conversation (with your friend’s permission), or write down terms and phrases that come up for you that you can use to replace professional jargon.
- Do not confuse the objectives with the benefits. Objectives (3.1) involve the more general social or scientific significance, such as ‘finding a medicine that will cure rheumatoid arthritis’. Benefits (3.2) involve the concrete things you expect to find, such as ‘better knowledge of the side effects and effectiveness of medicine x for rheumatoid arthritis’.
- Under Adverse Effects (3.4) describe in brief what you will do to the animals, how often and for how long, and what effect you expect it will have.
- Be brief in the Severity section (3.5): state only the percentages of animals for each category of discomfort (mild, moderate, severe, non-recovery). This may take the form of a list. Do not go into the nature of the discomfort or justify it here.
- There are two different questions under Refining (4.3): why are you working with this species, and what are you doing to limit the adverse effects? Give two separate answers.
Phase 2: an optimal form
- Check that you have eliminated all jargon and complicated formulations, or ‘translated’ them into ordinary Dutch.
- See if you can divide longer sentences into shorter ones.
- Use Dutch linking words (like ‘hierdoor’, ‘want’ and ‘daarom’) to make the connections between sentences (and ideas) explicit.
- Check for compounds that are two words in English but one in Dutch (for example, ‘blood collection’ is ‘bloedafname’, ‘medication use’ is ‘medicijngebruik’). Combinations with an abbreviation or proper name are hyphenated in Dutch (‘MS-medicijn’, ‘Alzheimer-onderzoek’). You can also use a hyphen in combinations that may otherwise be less readable (for example, ‘leukemie-overlevingskans’ is more reader-friendly than ‘leukemieoverlevingskans’). If these combinations get too convoluted or overlong, turn them around (‘het afnemen van bloed’ instead of ‘bloedafname’; similarly ‘een medicijn tegen MS’, ‘onderzoek naar Alzheimer’, ‘de kans dat iemand leukemie overleeft’).
- Use the spellchecker!
- Check the length: the entire document should be about 750 words including the questions, but no longer than 1000 words. Shorten when necessary.
- Show the summary to a Dutch colleague who doesn’t know much about your research, and ask them if it’s understandable and if the Dutch is correct. If you can’t find anyone, then contact Monique Janssens for advice.