Research definitions

Definition of research for the REF

  • For the purposes of the REF, research is defined as a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared.
    • It includes work of direct relevance to the needs of commerce, industry, 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.
    • It includes research that is published, disseminated or made publicly available in the form of assessable research outputs, and confidential reports (as defined at paragraph 115 in Part 3, Section 2 of REF2014: Assessment framework and guidance on submissions).
  • Scholarship for the REF is defined as the creation, development and maintenance of the intellectual infrastructure of subjects and disciplines, in forms such as dictionaries, scholarly editions, catalogues and contributions to major research databases.

HESA definition of research for the reporting of research income

  • The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) requires that income in respect of externally sponsored research carried out by the institutions should conform to the Frascati definition of research, which is set out in the Frascati Manual (ISBN 9789264199040) available from HMSO.
  • The Frascati Manual defines research as follows:
    • Research and experimental development (R&D) comprise creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications.
  • The term R&D covers three activities:
    • Basic research is experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundation of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view.
    • Applied research is also original investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective.
    • Experimental development is systematic work, drawing on existing knowledge gained from research and/or practical experience, which is directed to producing new materials, products or devices, to installing new processes, systems and services, or to improving substantially those already produced or installed. R&D covers both formal R&D in R&D units and informal or occasional R&D in other units.
  • Routine testing and analysis of materials, components, products, processes, etc; feasibility studies; routine software development; general purpose data collection. The later stages of some clinical drug trials may be more akin to routine testing, particularly in cases where the original research has been done by a drug company or other contractor.
  • The Frascati Manual gives these examples of the type of work included under the three components of R&D:
    • The determination of the amino acid sequence of an antibody molecule would be basic research. Investigations undertaken in an effort to distinguish between antibodies for various diseases would be applied research. Experimental development would then consist of devising a method for synthesising the antibody for a particular disease on the basis of knowledge of its structure and clinically testing the effectiveness of the synthesised antibody on patients who have agreed to accept experimental advanced treatment.
    • Theoretical investigation of the factors determining regional variations in economic growth is basic research; however, such investigation performed for the purpose of developing government policy would be applied research. The development of operational models, based upon laws revealed through research and aimed at modifying regional disparities, would be experimental development.

Research data management

  • Research data is defined as recorded factual material commonly retained by and accepted in the research community as necessary to validate research findings.
  • Birkbeck recognises the importance of the principle of public accessibility of research data to the integrity of the research process, and the value of research data as a resource both to the originating researchers and to subsequent researchers for re-use and analysis.
  • Birkbeck has set up a Working Party chaired by Rick Cooper, Assistant Dean (Research), School of Science and Professor of Cognitive Science within the Department of Psychological Sciences, with representatives from the Library, ITS, Finance, Research Grants and Contracts and the Department of Biological Sciences, to develop College policies and guidance on research data management at Birkbeck.

Research data management and research funders