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How do I start writing an impact case study?

If you are planning or hoping to write an impact case study for REF2029, or you have been asked to (potentially?) do so by your institution, then you might be thinking: how do I even start? What makes a good case study? How is that different from writing an academic article? Here, I introduce a template that could help you with the first of these questions (the others will be addressed in future posts).

This post assumes that you have impact that can be reported in a case study. It will not help you much in planning your impact - if that's what you're looking for today, have a look here.

Those who have been in the UK impact sphere for a while know the template by heart - Section 1 summary, Section 2 research, Section 4 the impact, Sections 3 and 5 the references to research and impact respectively. This was the structure for both the 2014 and the 2021 REFs, with the difference that 2021 was 5 pages and included a header with information about the submitting team.

You can look at literally thousands of examples here. But how do you now go about writing your own?

Based on the REF2021 template (from pages 95-98 here), I have set up a word document that includes the same sections, but also guiding questions and some commentary. It is intended to be used as a preparatory thinking document, to help you to identify a narrative and collect plans in one place. Your institution might be asking you to fill in a template that they created, and if you're struggling to get started with that, perhaps the additional questions here break it down to make it easier. Then you can always copy your text across to your institutional template.

Here is my version:

Impact overview template case study style
Download DOCX • 28KB

Note that all this is based on the information available in early 2024, that is:

  1. We know that impact case studies will form an important part of the next REF

  2. We don't have the official template yet

  3. The template hasn't changed much between 2014 and 2021 and there is nothing in the REF initial publications to date to suggest that (major) changes are being considered.

If you're the one asking staff to complete a template, feel free to send them this version and make any amendments you want (e.g. you could add a question or even a box in Section 4 asking people what support they would find useful from the university?). It would be great if you could let me know if you do this - impact tracking and all that ;-)

You might also be interested in my 2-hour workshop where I guide impact case study leads through drafting a narrative.

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