Preparing your REF2021 ICS – Section 4. Details of the impact

Reach and Significance

This section is where your quality star-rating will be determined.

Impact Case Studies are scored on the Reach (extent and diversity of beneficiaries) and Significance (degree of change) of the impacts claimed. Having demonstrated eligibility in previous sections of the case study, this is where you focus on showcasing and evidencing the strongest impacts from your research.

All impact case studies are different and the format and content of this section will depend upon the best way of demonstrating the reach and significance of your impact. 

Annex A of the REF2021 Panel Criteria and Working Methods document contains a wide variety of types of impact and suggested indicators. This annex is particularly useful as it demonstrates the style of language expected in REF Impact Case Studies.

The following pointers are based on common issues identified in REF Management Group feedback to authors on draft Impact Case Studies submitted to recent mini-REF exercises. 


✅      Stick to Impact in Section 4  (not Research)  

✅      Make the reach and significance of your impact obvious to the reader 

✅       Aim for a coherent story with a logical narrative throughout 

✅       Be bold – this is not a time for modesty, talk up your impact claims  

✅       Use sub-headings to focus attention on the reach and significance of the impact  

✅       Use bold text to aid clarity of impact claims for the reader 

✅       Be specific with your claims

      • 450 primary school pupils, 80% of UK local authorities, 12.5% increase in turnover, 10,500 exhibition visitors, 25 venues.  
      • Since September 2013,  until December 2020

✅       Minimise the use of acronyms and abbreviations unless they are in common usage 

✅       Write for an educated but non-specialist audience, avoiding jargon 

✅       Corroborate key impact claims with evidence 

✅       Make sure that everything you want the assessor to see is in the template.

✅       Remember to cross-reference to your corroborating evidence sources using E.1, E,2 etc 


❌ Avoid using terms such as ‘leading edge’ and ‘ground-breaking’ to describe your own work  – assessors will decide these qualities for themselves. Instead, describe what you did that was ‘ground-breaking’, eg. it was the first time a topic was studied, or a novel methodology was developed or applied, or findings presented to a new audience, in a new way etc.   

❌ Avoid vague terms such as generated extensive impact, a large number of local councils, many more visitors, high-levels of engagement. Instead – improved attendance across schools across northern England, adopted by 300 of England’s 353 councils, generated an increase in visitor numbers of 25%, generated engagement across audiences in television, newspapers and social media.  

Standardised approach to quantitative data

In order to support post-REF2021 Assessment analysis, Research England have issued guidance on consistency for providing quantitative indicators.  A short guide to standardisation of quantitative data for REF2021 impact is available here.  

The full guidance and rationale is available in the RAND report on standardising quantitative data for impact in REF2021 available via the REF2021 website.



Return to REF2021 ICS Contents.