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REF 2021: Submission of Research Outputs

Sourcing PDF or hard-copy versions

This is a brief guide on the steps to follow when sourcing electronic or hard-copy versions for submitting outputs to REF 2021 (i.e. in situations where providing more than a DOI is required).

Steps to follow

  1. Look for the PDF online

Utilise core databases, the UoE library catalogue and external websites to search for a downloadable version which should be provided as a PDF. Tip: Make sure you are connected to the VPN as this should automatically give you University of Exeter access if we have purchased access or have a subscription. If not, there may be a separate ‘login’ area you will need to try where you can login as a member of UoE.

Some of the e-books that we have purchased or have access to through subscription may have Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies in place that limit the amount of a book that can be downloaded. In that case it would be necessary to request a PDF copy from the author or publisher.

The version of the output on ORE is typically the “accepted manuscript” and is not the final version of the output. We can only submit the final published version of the output. The only exception to this is if the publication was delayed beyond 1st January 2021 because of Covid-19.

If you need any guidance on finding or using the e-books, contact your Liaison Librarian

  1. Ask the author

If the PDF is not readily and freely available online, then ask the author if they have an electronic version of the final published output.

  1. Ask the publisher

If both of the above options have proved unsuccessful, then please contact the publisher (or ask the author to do so). HEIs have been contacting publishers directly in such situations, and report that they have generally been co-operative in providing a PDF for REF purposes. The author may have a named publisher contact you can use. Otherwise find the book on the publisher website and find an email/phone/form contact to use.

  1. Ask the author (again)

If all avenues for an electronic version have been exhausted, please ask the author as they should have a hard copy of the final published output. If they have a physical copy of the output it can be scanned or photocopied (permitted by REF) or, if scanning is not feasible or preferred by the UoA, the hard copy can be sent.

  1. Borrow the book from the Library

Check the UoE library catalogue to see if the library has a copy of the book and, if so, borrow it. You can scan or photocopy the whole book for REF purposes.

  1. Make an Inter Library Loan request for a digital book chapter 
    It may be possible to source a digital copy (PDF) of a book chapter from another library that can be submitted to REF. Please be aware that many library colleagues are currently working from home, both within our own library service and in external services, such as the British Library. This will impact on the turnaround time for such services, You can make a request

  2. Purchase a print book/item for scanning or for submission as a hard copy
    There are no central funds for this and this can only be done using your departmental budget. Please ensure that the BP and the DoR are aware of such spending.

REF 2021

Uploading your PDF

The guidance on how to upload the PDF or where to send hard copies can be found here.


For general enquiries in relation to REF2021 at the University of Exeter please email

Copyright and REF 2021

Regarding copyright queries, please be aware that there is a licence agreement between the CLA and UKRI to cover the submission of research outputs and to provide assurance that REF submissions are copyright compliant. This covers books, journals, periodicals and conference proceedings published between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2020 (or, exceptionally, up to 31 March 2021 where delayed by COVID-19).

REF have a copyright licence agreement which covers us to:

  • Download and make copies of PDFs where we have a subscription or have purchased access to outputs online
  • Scan or photocopy hard copy research outputs (either independently or via the library catalogue for institution-owned copies)
  • Link to the DOI (for outputs D and E only (journal articles and conference proceedings))

Outputs obtained under this licence can only be stored for use in REF, and will be deleted within 3 months of the end of the assessment phase.

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