Investigating the REF2014 as another means of understanding academic books

In this blog post, Simon Tanner reveals some of the early results of his research into the last REF, looking at Arts and Humanities panels and their submissions.

The recent Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) 2015 International Conference presented a session on the Academic Book of the Future, chaired by Richard Fisher. The session, Something Understood Scholarly Communications, included a presentation by Simon Tanner from the ABoF project and also significant contributions from Professor John Holmwood (University of Nottingham and past President of the British Sociological Association) and Professor Peter Mandler (University of Cambridge and President of the Royal Historical Society).

You can find an ALPSP blog covering the whole session here (insert link:
The ALPSP have also provided a full video of the whole session here (insert link:

In this blog post we would like to focus upon the aspect of Simon’s presentation that considered the REF 2014 book submissions. You can find Simon’s ALPSP presentation slides here (insert link or maybe embed in blog:

The REF 2014 submission data provides a rich data set that Simon is investigating as a means of finding out more about the academic books submitted in the last REF cycle. The analysis of the data will provide useful indicator data about academic book writing and publishing, and will further augment the analysis already provided by HEFCE.

The research focuses upon the Main Panel D for Arts and Humanities. Within this Panel, data can be investigated by Unit of Assessment Subject Area and by Research Output Type. A broad slice can be taken across the whole Panel or Output Type, then each Subject Area can be interrogated in detail, providing information about the publishing trends in these subjects, as well as the REF submission trends.

One useful area of exploration is the identification of preferred publishers. These can be presented in terms of the actual numbers or proportions of books submitted and will indicate for each Subject Area which publishers have precedence in REF and also identify those specialist publishers which are submitted only a few times. This information may be surprising to academics, publishers and libraries alike – it would certainly provoke a debate in those communities. In this phase of the project this is one of our objectives – to raise evidence that will challenge or confirm received opinion and thus stimulate a community response.

Another possible avenue of investigation might be to correlate of publishers’ lists of published monographs against those that were submitted to REF to find out why some books are submitted and others not, without making any assumptions about the quality of the books. Further, an investigation of whether and which books are cited in Impact Case Studies would provide an indication of how books connect to the impact factors described in the REF. A whole series of other queries can be made once we have the dataset. For instance, looking at gender of authors, book format/length etc, books per submitting institution, number of open access books etc. Some of these measures may prove more achievable than others, given the available data but are worth considering.

Our goal in this phase of investigation is not to prove any particular point but to see where the data leads us and what discussions can thus be stimulated.

Figure 1 shows an initial investigation of the proportions of research output type by Subject Area. It throws up some interesting comparisons and these are further explored in Figures 2 and 3. As can be seen there are some strong similarities in the proportions of books, book chapters and journal submissions made across subject areas. But we also observe that certain subject areas, such as Music, Drama, Dance & Performing Arts or Art & Design, show enormous shifts in output types to include a broader range of research outputs for these subjects, including Compositions, Exhibitions, Performance and Design for example.

Figure 1:


Figure 2:


Figure 3:


Considering Publishing and History – REF 2014 Unit of Assessment 30

Having compared subject we can deep dive a specific subject, in this case History. It should be noted that extracting this data is time consuming and relatively complex due to the variations in the data provided by academics to the REF. We see books with no ISBN, books with publishers so obscure they did not appear in search engines and the variant use of publisher name (such that Oxford University Press for instance is expressed in over a dozen different ways).

For History we found:

  • 1657 Books in the following output types
    • Authored Books (1320),
    • Edited Books (290) and
    • Scholarly Editions (47)
  • 295 unique Publishers were found
  • Top 10 most used Publishers = 930 books or 56%
  • 258 Publishers (87%) had 5 or fewer books submitted
  • 171 Publishers (57%) had one book submitted – mostly non-UK
  • 761 books submitted (46%) were from a University Press
    • Outside the top 5 these were mostly non-UK publishers

We can also provide a list of the only Publishers with >10 books submitted for History in the REF 2014.

  • 213 Oxford University Press
  • 162 Cambridge University Press
  • 143 Palgrave  Macmillan
  • 98 Manchester University Press
  • 74 Ashgate
  • 70 Routledge
  • 52 Boydell & Brewer
  • 51 Yale University Press
  • 40 Brill Academic Publishers
  • 27 Continuum International Publishing
  • 27 Edinburgh University Press
  • 21 I B Tauris
  • 21 Pickering & Chatto
  • 20 Harvard University Press
  • 19 Bloomsbury Publishing
  • 16 Penguin
  • 14 Allen Lane
  • 14 British Academy/Oxford University Press
  • 14 Liverpool  University Press
  • 14 University of Wales Press
  • 12 University of Chicago Press
  • 11 Reaktion Books

Your Thoughts?

As we said earlier, our goal in this phase of investigation is not to set out to prove a point but to see where the data leads us and what discourses are thus stimulated. So please do get in touch and share your thoughts. Do these results confirm or contradict your expectations? Do you have further data you’d like to share with the project to augment this provided here?

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