REF 2021 – Guidance for Qualitative Psychologists

A colleague of mine has been involved in the production of a document aimed at supporting qual psychologists in considering their engagement in REF through the quality of their outputs and approach – “Writing for the REF” on the BPS website.

The document is a useful read – I strongly recommend it. The following represent the key areas of advice. I’ve avoided going into further detail, as it’s worth reading the document itself.

  • Write to the REF criteria
  • Positively convey the strengths of your own work
  • Think about who will be assessing your work
  • Avoid overlap between submitted REF outputs
  • Carefully consider your publication outlet
  • Be aware of potential sample size issues
  • Have a REF publication strategy

At the heart of this, of course, to coin a Ruth Rendell phrase, is a fatal inversion. REF now claims to assess open access research, yet journals have been slow to:

  1. give up their capitalist, industrial formats of journal publication (many truly open access journals that publish on web platforms for free, are some of the lowest IF journals available, despite their spirit of freedom of sharing);
  2. incorporate word counts and methodological emphases that would benefit qual research. In a thesis I could see how there would be opportunity to go into rigorous detail and indicators of qual research evaluative indicators but even journals focussing on qualitative psychology are unlikely to publish a blow-by-blow audit of complex and involved decision-making during qualitative analysis.

This said, consider reading the guidance, I think it’s worthwhile and important that a group of senior qual specialists took the time to articulate all of these important details that try to tread that line between doing stimulating psych research and stepping up to the plate for the REF – these are not automatically synonymous after all.