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Ghosts in the machine

The deadline for submissions to the Research Excellence Framework is approaching and universities are rushing to finish their impact case studies. Adam Smith meets the consultants who are helping them—often by writing the documents from scratch.

“I can’t help you—I’m completely snowed under,” comes the fraught reply from a writing consultant who knows a thing or two about linguistic stress. “Ditto my colleagues!”

The email didn’t surprise me; the deadline for REF submissions, 29 November, is not far away. Impact case studies, which provide the evidence that a researcher’s work has made a change in society, have to be completed.

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