We all know the power of a good story. I was reminded of this during a recent chat with pals when I suggested that what England needed right now was Jeremy Corbyn, my perception of whom is a man of integrity and purpose, unlike Do-ris, the current occupants of Nbr 10. But he lacks presence, said one, and eats cold beans from a can. Um, what?? Apparently, in an account written by his ex-wife and reported in a right-wing tabloid, 'facts' about Jeremy's life included his holiday choices - choosing camping trips in the rain over luxury hotels - and his love of talking about politics. And that he liked to eat cold beans out of the tin. Well, that definitely makes you a commie, right? In quite a long-winded way, I'm using this to introduce a post about REF impact case studies. Stay with me, and all will (maybe) become clear!
As we roll towards the REF deadlines, I've been providing some editing support for some impact case studies. These have been for different Units of Assessment and across a whole range of topics. But there are some common features - most notably around the narrative - that stand out. So here are my three top tips for your impact narratives.
Write for an audience
Every time you put pen to paper - or fingers to your keyboard - you're writing for an audience. Whatever you write, the sheer act of writing means that you're trying to communicate something to someone. This means understanding who you're writing for. And this is just as important for impact case studies as for anything else. Panel members might be academic experts in their field, but we know that case studies for any UoA can cover a whole host of topics, so they won't necessarily be expert in your field. Make sure your research is described in clear, jargon-free language that will be meaningful to non-expert readers.
Connect the dots
There are different ways to put a story together, but the good ones make it easy for the reader to make connections and link ideas together. This means they can follow a story through from start to finish, no matter what twists or turns it takes. Connecting the dots between impact claims and underpinning research is an essential part of the case study, so spend time making sure that your claims in Section 4 of the template are clearly linked to the research findings described in Section 2. The last thing you want assessors to have to do is to work too hard to find these connections. So make it easy for them to see and understand the links.
Tell the story
Last - but definitely not least - is the link to the beans. And that's the value of the narrative. A good story takes its readers on a journey. In some cases, you go to magical lands. In others, you learn about how a piece of research has changed something for a certain group of beneficiaries. Your case study obviously needs to be based on what's actually happened, but that's no reason not to embrace the value of a good narrative. So let your creative writing juices flow and leave your readers in no doubt that your research has made a difference to people's lives.
The power of the impact case studies is definitely in the detail. But never underestimate the power of a good story. Just beware the temptation to sensationalise, spin the facts or over embellish. If that starts to happen, just remember - step back from eating cold beans from the tin!