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​​Outputs from Research 

A research output is the product of research.  It can take many different forms or types.  See here for a full glossary of output types.

The tables below sets out the generic criteria for assessing outputs and the definitions of the starred levels, as used during the REF2021 exercise.


Four star

Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, rigour and significance.
Three starQuality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, rigor and significance but which falls short of the highest standards of excellence.
Two starQuality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, rigour and significance.
One starQuality that is recognised nationally in terms of originality, rigour and significance.
Unclassified​Quality that falls below the standard of nationally recognised work. Or work which does not meet the published definition of research for the purposes of this assessment.

'World-leading', 'internationally' and 'nationally' in this context refer to quality standards. They do not refer to the nature or geographical scope of particular subjects, nor to the locus of research, nor its place of dissemination.


Definitions of Originality, Rigour and Significance

Originality will be understood as the extent to which the output makes an important and innovative contribution to understanding and knowledge in the field. Research outputs that demonstrate originality may do one or more of the following: produce and interpret new empirical findings or new material; engage with new and/or complex problems; develop innovative research methods, methodologies and analytical techniques; show imaginative and creative scope; provide new arguments and/or new forms of expression, formal innovations, interpretations and/or insights; collect and engage with novel types of data; and/or advance theory or the analysis of doctrine, policy or practice, and new forms of expression.
Rigour will be understood as the extent to which the work demonstrates intellectual coherence and integrity, and adopts robust and appropriate concepts, analyses, sources, theories and/or methodologies.
​Significance will be understood as the extent to which the work has influenced, or has the capacity to influence, knowledge and scholarly thought, or the development and understanding of policy and/or practice.

Supplementary Output criteria – Understanding the thresholds:

The 'Panel criteria' explains in more detail how the sub-panels apply the assessment criteria and interpret the thresholds:

Main Panel A: Medicine, health and life sciences 
Main Panel B: Physical sciences, engineering and mathematics 
Main Panel C: Social sciences 
Main Panel D: Arts and humanities ​

Definition of Research for the REF

1. For the purposes of the REF, research is defined as a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared.


2. It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry, culture, society, and to the public and voluntary sectors; scholarship; the invention and generation of ideas, images, performances, artefacts including design, where these lead to new or substantially improved insights; and the use of existing knowledge in experimental development to produce new or substantially improved materials, devices, products and processes, including design and construction. It excludes routine testing and routine analysis of materials, components and processes such as for the maintenance of national standards, as distinct from the development of new analytical techniques. 

It also excludes the development of teaching materials that do not embody original research.

3. It includes research that is published, disseminated or made publicly available in the form of assessable research outputs, and confidential reports 



​Output FAQs


Q.  What is a Research Output?

A research output is the product of research.  An underpinning principle of the REF is that all forms of research output will be assessed on a fair and equal basis.  Sub-panels will not regard any particular form of output as of greater or lesser quality than another per se.  You can access the full list of eligible output types her​e.


Q.  When is the next Research Excellence Framework?

The next exercise will be REF 2029, with results published in 2029.  It is therefore likely that we will make our submission towards the end of 2028, but the actual timetable hasn't been confirmed yet.

A sector-wide consultation is currently occurring to help refine the detail of the next exercise.  You can learn more about the emerging REF 2029 here.


Q.  Why am I being contacted now, if we don't know the final details for a future assessment?

Although we don't know all of the detail, we know that some of the core components of the previous exercise will be retained.  This will include the assessment of research outputs. 

To make the internal process more manageable and avoid a rush at the end of the REF cycle, we will be conducting an output review process on an annual basis, in some shape and form to spread the workload.

Furthermore, regardless of any external assessment frameworks, it is also important for us to understand the quality of research being produced at Edinburgh Napier University and to introduce support mechanisms that will enhance the quality of the research conducted.  This is of benefit to the University and to you and your career development.


Q. I haven't produced any REF-eligible outputs as yet, what should I do?

We recognise that not everyone contacted this year will have produced a REF-eligible output so early on in a new REF cycle.  If this is the case, you can respond with a nil return and you may be contacted again in a future annual review.


If you need additional support to help you deliver on your research objectives, please contact your line manager and/or Head of Research to discuss.


Q.  I was contacted last year to identify an output, but I have not received a notification for the 2024 annual cycle, why not?

Due to administrative capacity in RIE and the lack of detail on the REF 2029 rules relating to staff and outputs, we are restricting this years' scoring activity to a manageable volume based on a set of pre-defined, targeted criteria.

An output review process will be repeated annually.  If an output is not reviewed in the current year, we anticipate that it will be included in a future review process if it remains in your top selection.


Once we know more about the shape of future REF, we will adapt the annual process to meet the new eligibility criteria and aim to increase the volume of outputs being reviewed.


Q. I am unfamiliar with the REF criteria, and I do not feel well-enough equipped to provide a score or qualitative statement for my output/s, what should I do?

The output self-scoring field is optional.  We appreciate that some staff may not be familiar with the criteria and are therefore unable to provide a reliable score. 


The REF team has been working with Schools to develop a programme of REF awareness and output quality enhancement which aims to promote understanding of REF criteria and enable staff to score their work in future.  We aim to deliver quality enhancement training in all Schools by the end of the 2023-24 academic cycle.

Please look out for further communications on this.

For those staff who do wish to provide a score and commentary, please refer specifically to the REF main panel output criteria:

Main Panel A: Medicine, health and life sciences 
Main Panel B: Physical sciences, engineering and mathematics 
Main Panel C: Social sciences 
Main Panel D: Arts and humanities 


Q. Can I refer to Journal impact factors or other metrics as a basis of Output quality?

An underpinning principle of REF is that journal impact factors or any hierarchy of journals, journal-based metrics (this includes ABS rating, journal ranking and total citations) should not be used in the assessment o​f outputs. No output is privileged or disadvantaged on the basis of the publisher, where it is published or the medium of its publication. 


An output should be assessed on its content and contribution to advancing knowledge in its own right and in the context of the REF quality threshold criteria, irrespective of the ranking of the journal or publication outlet in which it appears.


You should refer only to the REF output quality criteria (please see definitions above) if you are adding the optional self-score and commentary field and you should not refer to any journal ranking sources.


Q. What is Open Access Policy and how does it affect my outputs?

Under current rules, to be eligible for future research assessment exercises, higher education institutions (HEIs) are required to implement processes and procedures to comply with the REF Open Access policy. 


It is a requirement for all journal articles and conference proceedings with an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), accepted for publication after 1 April 2016, to be made open access.  This can be achieved by either publishing the output in an open access journal outlet or by depositing an author accepted manuscript version in the University's repository within three months of the acceptance date.


Although the current Open Access policy applies only to journal and conference proceedings with an ISSN, Edinburgh Napier University expects staff to deposit all forms of research output in the University research management system, subject to any publishers' restrictions.


You can read the University's Open Access Policy here .


Q. My Output is likely to form part of a portfolio of work (multi-component output), how do I collate and present this type of output for assessment?

The REF team will be working with relevant School research leadership teams to develop platforms to present multicomponent / portfolio submissions.  In the meantime, please use the commentary section to describe how your output could form part of a multicomponent submission and provide any useful contextual information about the research question your work is addressing.


Q. How will the information I provide about my outputs be used and for what purpose?

In the 2024 output cycle, a minimum of one output identified by each identified author will be reviewed by a panel of internal and external subject experts.


The information provided will be used to enable us to report on research quality measures as identified in the University R&I strategy.

Output quality data will be recorded centrally on the University's REF module in Worktribe.  Access to this data is restricted to a core team of REF staff based with the Research, Innovation and Enterprise Office and key senior leaders in the School.


The data will not be used for any other purpose, other than for monitoring REF-related preparations.


Q. Who else will be involved in reviewing my output/s?

Outputs will be reviewed by an expert panel of internal and external independent reviewers.


Q. Will I receive feedback on my Output/s?

The REF team encourages open and transparent communication relating to output review and feedback.  We will be working with senior research leaders within the School to promote this.


Q.  I have identified more than one Output, will all of my identified outputs be reviewed this year?

In the 2024 cycle, we are committed to reviewing at least one output from each contacted author via an internal, external and moderation review process in the 2024 cycle.


An output review process will be repeated annually.  If an output is not reviewed in the current year, we anticipate that it will be included in a future review process if it remains in your top selection.


​Once we know more about the shape of a future REF, we will adapt the annual process to meet the new criteria / eligibility.

Get in touch

For further queries about the Research Excellence Framework (REF), please contact the REF Team, REFteam@napier.ac.uk​. ​