Making the Most of Your Research – A Toolkit

Making the Most of Your Research – A Toolkit

What this toolkit can do for you

Researchers use many techniques to engage people in their work and create impact from it. The process is like a journey of discovery without a strict ‘right way’ to do it. There’s no one-size-fits all approach but there are steps which make it easier, more efficient and successful.

This toolkit gives you a route map and essentials for your journey. The guidance, tips, tactics and strategies within it can help you whatever stage you’re at. We signpost effective approaches to research and engagement, as well as how you can get support. You can learn from colleagues who have shared their experiences, get inspired, and add your own story when you feel ready.  

Aberdeen 2040 and research beyond academia

The University is committed to being “open to all and dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the service of others.” Aberdeen 2040 is our commitment to using research, teaching, and learning for the common good; to share knowledge, challenge convention and bring positive change wherever possible. 

The University is committed to communicating research and learning beyond academia. We want our findings to be available to anyone who wishes to learn. We also want to engage and collaborate with external partners as we plan for the future. This toolkit supports our 2040 commitments and aims to give you practical ways to achieve our ambitions for engaging with the broader world.

Commitments |  Interdisciplinary challenges | Sustainable Development Goals

“Our pursuit of truth is shaped by our determination to act in the service of others and the impact we can have on in and on our communities, home and abroad.”

Aberdeen 2040

1. Plan for research with consequence

1.1 Think ahead about your research: goals, engagement objectives, audiences, open research


What is the goal of your research? 
  • What hypothesis are you testing? Or what gaps in understanding need addressing?
  • You will have a clear understanding of this – but can you communicate it clearly and concisely to a non-specialist audience? If you had to, could you communicate it in no more than ten words, or fifteen seconds?
  • Does your goal pass the “so what” test?
  • How might your research benefit the scientific community and those beyond academia?
  • Are you asking the right questions? If your research has a direct effect on a certain sector, their knowledge and experience can help you refine and frame your questions so they are relevant.
  • Are there colleagues you could be speaking to?
What are your engagement objectives?
  • Define success – what do you hope to achieve and how will you know you’ve succeeded? 
  • Is your plan to reach the widest possible audience or to make contact with specific groups?
  • Is your research open access and accessible?
  • What do you need to achieve your objectives? Do you need to develop any skills? Do you require any training?
What audiences do you want to reach? 
  • Are you aware of who your stakeholders, beneficiaries and research users might be?
  • How will you communicate with them?
  • Do any of your audiences know who you are? Do you have a public profile? Is it easy for people to find you? Is your name next to the claims you make? 

For support building your profile contact the Communications Team, which promotes the University’s work and expertise to the world. It publicises stories from schools and directorates, from ground-breaking research initiatives to the achievements of staff and students. It is the point of contact for journalists in the regional, national, international and specialist media.

How can you ensure open research?
  • Make your research outputs, underlying research data, methodology and any software or code that you have produced in the process of carrying out your research open access.
  • This means that they are freely available to be viewed and downloaded by anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, without barriers or requiring payment.

Find support at Open Research. 


1.2 What change can result from your research?

Your research doesn’t only have the potential to contribute to your field and advance your discipline, it may also benefit those beyond academia. Think about potential changes that could result from your research in the following areas:

  • cultural, e.g. changing opinions
  • economic, e.g. creating jobs, wealth or opportunities
  • environmental, e.g. lowering carbon dioxide emissions
  • educational, e.g. improving engagement or attainment of hard-to-reach groups
  • health and wellbeing, e.g. improving patient outcomes, experience or diagnosis
  • social welfare and public services, e.g. improving the quality, effectiveness and/or efficiency of public service delivery
  • public policy and legislation, e.g. influencing a change in law or statutory guidance
  • operational and organisational, e.g. improving manufacturing processes
  • practitioner/professional services, e.g. a change in services
  • societal, e.g. changes in awareness and understanding
  • technological, e.g. wider reach of research

Identify potential impacts of your research so you can plan and prioritise actions which can inform and guide your project, such as knowledge exchange, public engagement, or dissemination activities. 

Find out how you can get specific support in Section 2.2 Get support to plan an engagement strategy.

1.3 Engage with others about your research findings: dissemination and engagement
1.3.1 What is dissemination?

Dissemination in academia typically involves sharing research findings with a fairly niche audience. 

Examples of dissemination include:

  • publishing in journals
  • sending reports to funders
  • attending conferences 
  • sending press releases
  • giving media interviews
  • writing articles 
  • posting about your findings on social media
  • running public engagement events

Dissemination is a good way to share information but you must know who your key audiences are and how they can make use of your findings. 

1.3.2 Understand and reach audiences: worksheet

To target audiences through dissemination you must segment them, understand each audience’s particular characteristics and refine the most appropriate and relevant messaging to appeal to them. You can do this by creating clear audience profiles. Download and complete our ‘Audience profile worksheet’ to help you understand different audiences and what they care most about.

You can then frame your research findings to communicate effectively with specific audiences. For example, people regard benefits (gains) and risks (losses) subjectively, depending on their own psychological, emotional, moral or political frameworks. An effective dissemination strategy will appeal to an audience in a way in which the benefits (e.g., lives saved by a new policy) outweigh the risks (e.g., economic or opportunity costs).

Now consider messaging channels and timing for engaging with your audience.

Traditional news media

Creating a press release makes you consider the who, what, where, when and why of your research. We’re all fascinated by our own work, but what (about your findings) is new, unusual, surprising, reassuring, or demonstrates change?

An effective press release starts with the story rather than burying it behind context. It can be published on your department’s news feed and sent to traditional and new media. But it must be tailored to each.

Researchers use press releases in many ways including, to share findings dispassionately, to analyse what results might mean or to raise awareness that research has been completed. Be aware of inter/national campaigns or events relevant to your work because timing your release before, during or just after these can help you gain traction.

Your press release should appeal to the media you are targeting – what is newsworthy for a sector-specific journal will differ from what will appeal to a newspaper and its readers.

Our Communications Team can help you put together a press release or prepare for an interview

Social media

Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok have wide and varied audiences which use them for amusement, entertainment, to stay informed and to network. They can be powerful platforms or huge timewasters. It can be useful to create a personal profile where stakeholders can learn more about you and contact you directly.

Whether and how you use social media to support your research may depend on how much you already use it, your target audiences and their preferences.

Talk with other researchers and the Communications Team about pros and cons, good practice and any training and support we can offer you.

1.3.3 Dissemination vs engagement

Engagement is different to dissemination – by engaging you seek to establish two-way communication and actively make space for the voices of your non-academic/expert audiences.

Engagement is an active process requiring knowledge of a particular audience and a willingness to build relationships with those who have an interest or stake in your research.

Examples of engagement include:

  • public engagement
  • public and patient involvement (PPI)
  • outreach
  • widening participation
  • collaborating on research or a brief with community partners
  • public talks
  • visiting schools or colleges
  • consulting with patient groups

There are several benefits of engagement:

  • For researchers - Engaging with audiences outside academia allows you to include more perspectives in the dialogue. You may find it enlightening, challenging, compelling and informative.
  • For the research process - Public engagement can lead to better quality research and ensure research is relevant, accessible and trusted.
  • For students and postdocs - Targeted dissemination and engagement develop your communication skills. Non-academic engagement helps others to understand the research process, our responsibility as researchers and where research can make a difference. It offers you networking and professional development opportunities too.

The key difference between engagement and dissemination is that you are prepared to listen, whether through active listening or evaluation of engagement activities such as workshops or events.

1.3.4 Why evaluate engagement?

Evaluation is a valuable tool that enables you to learn from your experiences and assess the impact of your work.

Evaluation is a “process of collecting evidence and reflection that will help you understand the dynamics and effect of your work, and help inform future projects or approaches.” (National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, NCCPE)

It is best to develop your evaluation plan at the beginning of a project, even if you modify it later. This will help you think through what you are trying to achieve and ensure you collect relevant data from your project as you go. These tools will help:

Additional tools for specific research areas:

  • AHRC’s Partnership working in the Arts and Humanities guide [pdf needs upload on server]
  • EPSRC’s translation toolkit [pdf needs uploading on server]
1.3.5 Research co-design and co-production

Co-designing research

Co-design in research involves participatory approaches to designing research proposals and the research process itself. This goes beyond consultation to reach equal collaboration between groups or communities affected by or attempting to resolve a particular challenge.

A key tenet of co-design is that users, as ‘experts’ of their own experience, become central to the design process. Co-design intentionally involves users and their input to inform or design solutions.

Co-producing research

Co-production involves including people who are not researchers but who have a stake in the project, in a shared learning process. This can enhance the quality of your research and help it to bring about positive change.

Co-production can include working with participants in a project, patients, carers, service users as well as people from wider society, such as policymakers, community groups, third-sector organisations and businesses.

Co-production can take place throughout a project. It may encompass identifying research questions, design and priority setting, governance, co-delivery of research activities, communication of key findings and involvement in knowledge exchange.

Read the UKRI’s co-production in research pages for more valuable insights.

1.3.6 Being aware of accountability, power and culture 

Co-production may raise ethical considerations since it can blur the lines between researcher and participant(s) or other stakeholders. All partners should consider such issues in advance and establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability.

Organisational culture and differences

It is a good idea for each partner to discuss their motivations and expectations around the project. Consider how you intend to manage any tensions between competing accountabilities at the outset.

Partners in co-production may come from a wide variety of research organisations, industries, charities, think tanks, policymaking bodies, participant groups and sections of the general public, and from a wide range of countries.

Partners may have their own perspectives regarding ethical issues around joint research. Any differences may be due to organisational culture, training, access to research resources and participant populations. Be aware and thoughtful.

It is worth seeking to understand partners’ and public attitudes towards the project and any perceptions about conflicts of interest.

Ongoing monitoring

Partners should agree, plan and implement a process of ethical reflection and monitoring while the research is taking place. Share the responsibility to do this. It will ensure any ethical issues are promptly reported to all organisations involved and appropriate advice is sought from a research ethics committee.

It can be helpful to include activities that encourage reflection and negotiation at key points. Learning events with research and innovation partners can be useful.

Equitable partnerships

Researchers and innovators should be sensitive to actual or perceived differences in income, status or power. They should follow principles of equitable partnerships to address inherent power imbalances when working with partners, particularly public and community partners where imbalances may be more prominent.

Partnerships must be transparent and based on mutual respect. They should hold a clearly articulated understanding of the equitable distribution of resources, responsibilities, efforts and benefits. Partnerships should recognise different inputs, interests and desired outcomes and ensure the ethical sharing and use of data.

Ethics review

Partners should agree a streamlined ethics review process. For example, they may choose to use the research ethics committee of the organisation where the principal investigator is based.

Depending on the type of research, the ethics review should, as a minimum, satisfy the requirements of either of the frameworks below:

Where research is to be conducted outside the UK or involves international partners, researchers must establish whether an ethics review is required by non-UK ethics committees.

Visit the University’s Research Governance resource page for advice on confidentiality, data protection or ethics.

1.3.7 Consultancy and knowledge exchange

Knowledge exchange (KE) is the “enabling of two-way exchange between researchers and research users to exchange ideas, research evidence, experiences and skills” (ESRC). KE activities include collaborative or contract research, consultancy services, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), training, commercialisation of research through start up and spin-out companies.

The University’s Research and Innovation department can support you with specialist advice around knowledge exchange, business development, consultancy, intellectual property opportunities, finance, policy and strategy.


Examples of successful collaborations and approaches to engagement:

  • School of Law: Collaborating with international partners to protect and manage marine genetic resources: Protecting marine biodiversity by understanding intellectual property rights
  • School of Psychology: Undertaking KE with farmers to improve safety in the farming industry: Sowing the seeds of safety with non-technical skills
  • Business School: Engaging with policymakers and charity organisations to address equality gaps in eye care access in Scotland. Tackling Scotland’s inequality in visual care for National Eye Health Week

Find more details on how to engage with your stakeholders in section 2.1.3 How to engage with stakeholders and beneficiaries

1.4 Ethics approval for research and good practice guides

You must secure ethical approval before starting some types of research. 

Follow the links for further guidance:

These websites provide useful guidance on ethical considerations:

UKRI’s Trusted research and innovation page has information about international partnerships and due diligence.

2. Build your networks

2.1 Identify stakeholders and beneficiaries
2.1.1 Who are my stakeholders and beneficiaries?

Stakeholders are organisations, groups or individuals who are affected by or can affect a decision, action or issue related to your research.

Beneficiaries are groups or individuals, either at a local, national, or global scale, who are ultimately affected, influenced, or experience an improvement from the research with or without direct contact.

Identify your stakeholders and beneficiaries by considering:

  • Whether there are individuals, groups or organisations that might have a common goal or mutual interest. A good practice approach is to map out potential stakeholders to help organise your approach (e.g. download our ‘Audience profile worksheet’ Stakeholder planning worksheet.pdf or see Nesta’s ‘target group tool’)
  • Whether you can identify specific groups you would like to work with from the broad categories in the stakeholder map.

Ask yourself:

  • Why would your research be important to each group?
  • How will you reach a particular group?
  • (How) Do the different groups interact?
  • Who else influences the different groups?
2.1.2 Prioritise stakeholders and beneficiaries

It isn't always effective or possible to interact with all the identified stakeholders. Determine who will be best to interact with by considering:

  • How likely the groups identified are to be affected by the research.
  • How accessible each group is to you.
  • How aware of your research the different groups are likely to be.
  • The capacity they have to use or take action on the basis of your research.
  • The impact your research might have on each group (positive/negative).

Make a considered judgement about the value and priority of targeting different stakeholders. Consider the potential risks and impacts of doing so before planning stakeholder and beneficiary engagement activities.


2.1.3 How to engage with stakeholders and beneficiaries

Once you have identified and prioritised the stakeholders you want to engage with, tailor your activities and communication strategies. Select engagement activities which suit your research and each stakeholder's needs.

When planning engagement activities consider:

  • What activities are you already conducting?
  • Is there an intermediary, such as a knowledge exchange professional, external expert or artist you should work with?
  • Do you need a communication strategy to raise awareness of your research to new groups or the public? Remember: work through ‘audience profile > message > channel > timing’ in that order.
  • What is involved in implementing your activity?
  • Can you use any events or platforms run by the University?
  • Which external engagement events or projects should you participate in to help achieve your impact and create your knowledge network?

Creating and nurturing engagement can take time. You should decide whether you or a member of your team is best placed to oversee these activities.

Potential risks to manage during stakeholder engagement include:

  • Stakeholder concerns over confidentiality
  • Lack of capacity to engage with the research or implement the findings
  • The research may challenge stakeholder views, affecting participation
  • Stakeholders and beneficiaries cannot use research communication material
  • The researcher and stakeholder want to ask different questions
  • Churn: a key contact leaves, affecting the relationship with stakeholder
  • The stakeholder agenda is already developed without considering research evidence
  • The stakeholder timeframe differs from your project timeframe
2.1.4 When to engage with stakeholders and beneficiaries

It is useful to consider how to manage expectations and when to engage with the groups identified. Early engagement with stakeholders is often beneficial to establish their needs, identify how best to engage them with the research, build flexibility into engagement plans and manage concerns.

Questions to consider:

  • Will you engage at the beginning, during or at the end of the project?
  • Will stakeholders’ requirements shape the research project?
  • Will you keep stakeholders updated throughout the project and if so, how?
  • How will you keep in touch after the project is completed?
2.2 Get support to plan an engagement strategy
2.2.1 Resourcing and costing impact activities

These tools can help you plan the budget for engagement activities:

2.2.2 Public and patient involvement

If you want support for planning public involvement, the Public Engagement with Research Team is available to help you come up with ideas and provide advice for your engagement activities. You can contact them here.

2.2.3 Policy and civic engagement

The Public Affairs Team seeks and seizes opportunities to develop the University's strategic role and reputation regionally, nationally, and globally. At a local level, the team seeks to establish the institution’s place in the community. The team can help you to promote your work to political audiences to maximise the impact of your research and expertise while providing a sound evidence base for policymaking.

Useful resources:

2.2.4 Industry engagement and knowledge exchange

Contact the Impact & Knowledge Exchange Team if you are interested in establishing research collaborations or strategic partnerships with the industry.

2.2.5 Public and community engagement

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement offers excellent guides on how to organise your own public engagement activities. Its guidance and best practice covers many areas such as understanding target audiences, partnership working, funding and how to successfully evaluate your projects.  

The ESRC has also produced a very useful toolkit for social science researchers.  

Contact the Impact Team to discuss getting started with knowledge exchange or public engagement.

The University’s Research and Innovation department can also support you with specialist advice around knowledge exchange, training, commercialisation, business development, consultancy, intellectual property opportunities, finance, policy and strategy.

Talk with the Stakeholder Engagement Team for help to manage your relationships with stakeholders.

3. Capture evidence

3.1 What is evidence?

There is no “one size fits all” approach to evidencing impact, the methods you use will be dependent on both the research and impact that has been (or is hoped to be) achieved. There are quantitative and qualitative indicators that can help you evidence impact.

Quantitative evidence has numerical values to represent information, e.g. attendance data, patient numbers, sales, statistics or organisation uptake. Quantitative evidence should be collected to describe the reach of the research, i.e. the spread or breadth of influence or effect on society. Reach is not assessed in purely geographic terms, nor in terms of absolute numbers of beneficiaries, but rather based on the spread or breadth to which society has been affected.

Qualitative evidence consists of information that is better expressed without numbers, such as the contents of interviews, images, recordings, and videos. Qualitative evidence helps others to understand the context of the issue and the significance of the impact of your research and can include written reports, testimonials and case studies.

3.2 Measure what matters

Collect evidence to help demonstrate a clear link between your research and its impact – this will guide your future research strategy. When planning, think about what it is you want to achieve from each activity (your outcomes), this will help determine what you should measure and inform your impact evaluation. Collect qualitative and quantitative information whenever possible. There are some great guides available in the public domain such as Perinatal-Peer-Support-Toolkit-1-1.pdf (Evaluation Support Scotland) and Young_Researchers_Toolkit_FINAL.pdf (Barnardos).


  • What can be measured?
  • What is the baseline? It is important to understand the current situation to identify the influence, effects or changes that have taken place.
  • Who has been engaged? You can collect meeting agendas, Eventbrite invitations, attendee lists, demographics, and numbers of attendees.
  • How did they react to the research? You can ask for feedback from attendees, and even have secondary reach from attendees passing on information.
  • What online activity has there been? Retweets, web hits, downloads, media coverage. PlumX metrics (available via Pure) may help with this.
  • Did a collaboration project achieve its goal? How do you know?
  • Evidence can be in the form of end-of-project reports, workshop feedback, testamonials and press releases, among others.

Measurements collected by others: You should discuss the need to collect evidence of research with your stakeholders at an early stage so that they are aware of your requirements and the reasons behind them.


  • What do your stakeholders already measure?
  • What performance measurements would your stakeholders be happy to share with you?
  • Are there indicators collected by local, national or global bodies?
3.3 Ten types of evidence checklist

Here are ten types of evidence to consider:

  • Information available in the public domain, including media reports and news articles
  • Information about research use from partners
  • Testamonials 
  • Event attendance and audience or participant feedback
  • Follow-up feedback
  • Awards
  • Independent reviews
  • Media and news articles
  • Website downloads / views / social engagement statistics and social media comments
  • Correspondence

Download this resource 10 types of evidence.pdf with more information on the eight types of evidence, what each can provide and how to get it.

Get support with understanding the kind of evidence you need for your project from the Impact & Knowledge Exchange Team, Research & Innovation:

3.4 When to collect evidence

Collecting evidence is not only an end-of-project activity. The research should be reviewed regularly to capture interim and unforeseen impacts.

It is easier to gather evidence of your dissemination and engagement activities as they occur rather than trying to find it months later, so be prepared. The evidence you collate can demonstrate a clear link between your research and its impact, which can guide your future research strategy. 

Collecting information while conducting the activities can also help indicate where impact may be achieved later. For example, keeping a record of attendees at an event can help show a link to your research afterwards. 

At the start of the research project or partnership, gather information on the current external situation. This baseline will allow you to identify the change due to the research over time. You can then test your findings against your original aims and objectives or Theory of Change if you have developed one.

3.5 How to collect and record evidence

You should have an easily accessible place to store the evidence of your impact. We recommend using Pure, the University’s Research Information system. Pure holds a range of research-related outcomes, impact and activities, and promotes the University’s research excellence to the wider community.

Pure content can be related to building connections between people, grants, publications, impacts and datasets. Pure links with other university systems including HR data, research grants, and student records, to provide an overview of research activity.

As an intermediate solution, before you record your evidence on Pure, you may:

  • Use a secure folder to support day-to-day evidence collection/online searches using Teams or Sharepoint
  • Use a filing index to keep track of and organise files
  • Include contextual information to keep track of evidence and its value/purpose and to help you visualise if/where there are gaps in your narrative/impact claims

Contact the Pure team with any problems or queries.

We encourage all researchers to maintain their Pure profile and keep Pure up to date with the latest research outputs and activities. When set to ‘public’, in the visibility settings, data from Pure populates the Public Research Portal. Open access publications with a full-text file attached are uploaded to the Aberdeen University Research Archive (AURA) where all open access publications are available to read.

Get support with evidence gathering from the Impact and REF Team:


Introduction to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

A brief introduction to the SDGs and what the University is doing to meet these goals.

Introduction to Impact

A short animation exploring what we mean by impact and how to get started.

Dr Forrest Keenan describes her research in collaboration with charities and clinicians

How research in collaboration with charities and clinicians helps better understand the experiences of children and young people in families with Huntington’s disease

4. Develop an impact case study for REF

4.1 What are impact case studies?

The UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF) defines impact as “an effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life, beyond academia”.

For the purposes of the REF, an impact case study (ICS) serves as a showcase through which a panel of assessors (consisting of academic experts and experienced laypersons) are able to assess the ways by which a body of research has impacted on wider society and the economy. 

The ICS is a five-page document which contains carefully constructed and pertinent information about the research and a description of its impact.

4.2 Prepare a case study: template

Suggest talking to the Impact and Knowledge Exchange team about criteria for developing case studies in two key REF2021 guidance documents:

Next, read these seven key tips for writing your impact case study: 

  • Tell your story so it is accessible and engaging to your intended audience (target audience are lay experts).
  • Articulate your impact and how it was achieved – start by setting out the context (why was this research important, what problem was it addressing), the difference you made (what did it change, who did it affect, influence, inform?) and how this was achieved. Dedicate one or two short paragraphs on the research context and keep it simple.
  • Be as specific as possible – give tangible and relatable examples, dates, name countries, policies, organisations, etc.
  • Evidence your impact – provide evidence to support your claims and include quotes and extracts so that the significance and reach of your impact is clear to your audience.
  • Focus on reach of impact – this is typically viewed more favourably than significance of impact – unless a sufficient “backstory” can be provided i.e. demonstrate the intent of your research.
  • Look at examples in the REF2021 Impact Case Study database
  • Read guides from other institutions such as Plymouth Marjon University’s REF 2021: Seven lessons learned about impact case studies.

Finally, download the template with the recommended structure for writing a case study: Impact case study guidance checklist.pdf.

4.3 What makes a 4* case study?

High-scoring case studies share several similar qualities, according to independent analyses:

  • They clearly articulate how specific groups have benefitted and provide evidence of significance and reach.
  • They establish causal and convincing (evidenced) links between research and impact.
  • They give an easy to understand (and follow) narrative.

Browse examples of high-scoring case studies: REF2021: 4* impact case studies.

Useful guide: What makes a 4* research impact case study for REF2021? 

This research toolkit was developed in collaboration with the Research Retold team.