Hobson’s choice: the effects of research evaluation on academics’ writing practices in England

Mcculloch, Sharon orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4022-2428 (2018) Hobson’s choice: the effects of research evaluation on academics’ writing practices in England. Aslib Journal of Information Management, 69 (5). pp. 503-515. ISSN 2050-3806

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1108/AJIM-12-2016-0216


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the influence of research evaluation policies and their interpretation on academics’ writing practices in three different higher education institutions and across three different disciplines. Specifically, the paper discusses how England’s national research excellence framework (REF) and institutional responses to it shape the decisions academics make about their writing.
Design/methodology/approach – In total, 49 academics at three English universities were interviewed. The academics were from one Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics discipline (mathematics), one humanities discipline (history) and one applied discipline (marketing). Repeated semi-structured interviews focussed on different aspects of academics’ writing practices. Heads of departments and administrative staff were also interviewed. Data were coded using the qualitative data analysis software, ATLAS.ti.
Findings – Academics’ ability to succeed in their career was closely tied to their ability to meet quantitative and qualitative targets driven by research evaluation systems, but these were predicated on an unrealistic understanding of knowledge creation. Research evaluation systems limited the epistemic choices available to academics, partly because they pushed academics’ writing towards genres and publication venues that conflicted with disciplinary traditions and partly because they were evenly distributed across institutions and age groups.
Originality/value – This work fills a gap in the literature by offering empirical and qualitative findings on the effects of research evaluation systems in context. It is also one of the only papers to focus on the ways in which individuals’ academic writing practices in particular are shaped by such systems.

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