Assessing PubMed metatag usage for plain language summary discoverability 

12 April 2023

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PubMed is a website that files scientific research articles and shows their abstracts. PubMed can also show plain language summaries (PLS) of these articles when publishers tag the PLS correctly. PLS and open access, or free-to-read, publishing can help readers to find and use published research. 

In this study, we downloaded all of the available articles on PubMed and searched for those with a PLS tag. We found that there were 3217 articles with PLS tags on PubMed. To check the accuracy of the PLS tags, we used a computer program to count how many of the PLS tags were correct.

We confirmed the results manually.  We found that 14.6% (470) of the tags were not tagging PLS but instead tagged: 

  • non-English language abstracts 
  • copies of the scientific abstract 
  • empty content 
  • other types of content, such as website links or article summary bullet points. 

Next, we looked at how many of the journals with correctly tagged PLS were open access. All 105 journals were fully open access or had open access options. We also looked at how many of the individual articles were open access. Of the 2747 articles with correctly tagged PLS, 77.7% (2135) were open access. 

Overall, our results suggest that publishers need more guidance on how to use the PLS tag on PubMed correctly so that the PLS can be found. This is important because tagging PLS correctly can help publishers to increase the impact of an article, so that it can be found and used by readers. 

To find out more about the study you can access the poster here.