Writing 300 word statements part 2: looking for examples and writing a draft

The REF2014 website makes public all the research outputs that were submitted for the last REF, including the 300 word statements. On the website: http://results.ref.ac.uk/, click on ‘results and submissions’; you can then select a particular institution, or a Unit of Assessment (UCA submitted solely to UOA34, Art and Design: History, Theory and Practice in REF2014, and is likely to do so again). There are several routes in: you are looking for ‘Research Outputs’ (REF2). Clicking on an individual output brings up exactly what was submitted into the REF form, including the 300 word statement, which is under the ‘Additional Information’ heading.

It’s worth exploring some examples. Unfortunately, we don’t know which outputs received a high ranking, being judged to be 4* (world leading) or 3* (internationally excellent). The REF only publishes its results as a quality profile of all the outputs submitted by a single institution to a single UOA. However, looking at a really successful submission, where almost all of the outputs were judged to be 4* or 3*, will bring up statements for outputs that are very likely to have been highly ranked. An example is the University of Westminster’ submission to UOA34, where 85 per cent of outputs were ranked at 3* or 4*, and nothing fell below 2*.

Find some examples and note how the research is described: how directly does the statement address the criteria of originality, significance and rigour? What evidence does it give? Find examples in your discipline that do a good job of describing the research against the criteria.

The following questions should be useful in drafting 300 word statements:

Originality

What were the contexts to the research? What had other people done before? What did you do that was different? (think in terms of a literature review, contextual review, or scoping exercises)

Significance

So what? What has changed in your field (however narrowly defined) as a result of this research? (new knowledge, contribution)

Rigour

What were the research questions? What were your aims? What processes did you follow? What were the theoretical frameworks? (methods, sources, procedures)

Don’t waste words describing the research: for non-text outputs, for instance exhibitions, there is another box for this (‘title and brief description’), where you can explain exactly what form the research took. If this applies to your output, draft this text too (provisionally up to 100 words).

Writing 300 word statements part 1: what are they and why are they needed?

For REF2014, individual research outputs were assessed on the basis of three types of evidence:

  • the output itself
  • a supporting portfolio
  • information about the research process and/or context

For the last of these, universities were able to submit 300 word statements. Although these were not compulsory, almost all submissions of research outputs included such statements, using the 300 words to explain succinctly how the output met the criteria against which REF outputs are judged: originality, significance and rigour.

The 300 word statements were particularly importantly for practice-based research. It’s arguable that a written output (eg a book, chapter or journal article) should already contain a clear and concise explanation of its originality, significance and rigour—although there is nothing to be lost by summarising this in a short additional statement. However, for practice-based research, the 300 words statement is essential to set out the basis and merits of the research.

This is how the REF defines each of the criteria used for judging outputs:

Originality

A creative/intellectual advance that makes an important and innovative contribution to understanding and knowledge. This may include:

  • substantive empirical findings
  • new arguments, interpretations or insights
  • imaginative scope
  • assembling of information in an innovative way
  • development of new theoretical frameworks and conceptual models
  • innovative methodologies and/or new forms of expression

Significance

The enhancement of,

  • knowledge
  • thinking
  • understanding
  • and/or practice

Rigour

  • intellectual coherence
  • methodological precision and analytical power
  • accuracy and depth of scholarship
  • awareness of and appropriate engagement with other relevant work

There has been no indication that these criteria will be revised for REF2021, or that the facility to submit 300 word statements will change. As part of preparations for REF2021, we need to start generating 300 word statements for all individual research outputs that are likely to be submitted.