Measuring the value of monographs

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Last year, in the lead-up to the publication of the 2014 REF results, I posted some reflections about the effects of the audit culture on the authorship of research monographs. Some of the concerns I outlined are echoed in the recently published Overview Report from the REF’s Main Panel C.

The findings of Sub-Panel 17 (Geography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology) are worth noting here. Of the 6,021 outputs submitted to Sub-Panel 17, more than 80% were journal articles. The Sub-Panel’s report notes (in a delightfully subversive piece of self-criticism) that

the number [of monographs] submitted by geographers declined relative to 2008. This justifies concerns expressed after RAE 2008 about the impact of research assessment on the continuing health of monograph publication in the discipline (p. 32).

That said, the Sub-Panel’s data show that research monographs have, in both 2008 and 2014, accounted for a disproportionate percentage of 4* grades. In 2008, monographs accounted for 4.7% of outputs and 15.1% of 4* grades (in Sub-Panel H-32); in 2014, they accounted for 7.8% of outputs and 14.4% of 4* grades (in Sub-Panel 17).

What are we to make of this? Perhaps, simply, that the authorship of monographs (within certain sub-fields of geographical research) remains a risk worth taking notwithstanding the strictures of audit. Something of the continuing significance of monograph publishing had recently been underlined by Geoffrey Crossick in his 2015 report to HEFCE, Monographs and Open Access:

Academics across a wide range of arts, humanities and social science disciplines see monographs as central to the advancement and communication of knowledge, and they have done so for many generations. Across arts and humanities disciplines as well as law, good monographs are the equal of good journal articles in terms of the importance that is attached by academics to publishing in each category…. When we think about the monograph it is therefore important to avoid the danger of seeing it as an awkward outlier in relation to a mainstream framework of research communication defined by the journals and refereed conference proceedings that dominate the sciences. For a significant part of the UK research community, by some calculations a majority of that community, the monograph and the research book more generally are central to their discipline (p.13).

Long live the research monograph!

Innes M. Keighren

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