What is Academic Research Impact (ARI)?

“Academic Research Impact (ARI) is a positive or negative immediate, future, or far future affect, effect, contribution to, or influence on a wide-range of topics, behavior, phenomena, individuals, communities, and systems that happen inside and outside the Academy as a result of academic research inputs, outputs, mid-, intermediate-, and long-term outcomes achieved through different types and intensities of engagement at any level involving a variety of people, stakeholders, and end users”.

Progression of the ARI phenomena tends to start Internally and move  Externally. Internal aspects meaning in proximity of and inherent to the Academy’s research, scholarly, and creative activity enterprise. External aspects are primarily considered to be with and for the public and society.

A Five-Minute Summary On How To Write Research Objectives For NSF Proposals


There is a lot of information out there on how to write a research objective. However, finding reliable information while trying to accomplish everything else on one’s plate can consume a lot of time. Meaning, for those who are new to writing NSF proposals, figuring out how to construct a high-quality research objective can quickly become a daunting task.

Below I provide some info to either help those who would like a quick refresher on or who are new to writing research objectives for NSF proposals. Information in Figures 1, 2, and 3 were taken from the power point slides of a March 2009, NSF CAREER workshop at George Mason University.

What was provided in this workshop nine years ago still appears to be the most concise overview on NSF research objectives to date. I have reorganized and slightly modified the information in the figures that came from these 2009 slides to ensure relevancy for current NSF PI/CoPI research objective expectations. If there is anything major that I have missed, please let me know. If you would like to see this on SlideShare please click here.

Writing the Research Objective

Writing the research objective is in many ways considered to be the hardest part of the proposal. In fact, one of the quickest ways to have your proposal dismissed by a reviewer is to provide a poorly written research objective.

Having a well-stated objective allows and leads the reader or reviewer to inherently understand the approach that will or should probably be taken to accomplish the specified aim/s. It also helps the writer to determine the best way to organize, establish, and demonstrate many of the intellectual merit aspects of their proposal.

When writing a research objective there are certain words that imply to the reader or reviewer that one is not doing research. Above all, make sure to avoid these words when writing your objective, Figure 1. In some cases there are exceptions to this rule. If provided, one should always check the related NSF solicitation.

There are also other best practices that should be considered when writing your research objective, Figure 1. For example, best practices suggest that one should provide the research objective early in the proposal and it should be kept under twenty-five (25) words. Having more than 25 words for standard PI/CoPI NSF proposals will exponentially decrease the quality of the research objective (i.e., limit readability and clarity of the objective).

Following these best practices will help one to avoid writing research objectives incorrectly such as those provided in Figure 2. These research objectives are incorrect for several reasons. For example, the first three objectives provided in Figure 2 use the words, “Design or Develop”. The fourth research objective showcases the proverbial “State-Of-The-Union” address format.

Lastly, in Figure 3, I provide ways or structures of how a research objective can be written that conveys to the reader or NSF reviewer that there is a high likelihood that one has submitted a research proposal.


I have provided a quick summary of what it takes to write a quality research objective. As with anything there are always more specifics that could be provided but I hope that this short synopsis of how to write a research objective points you in the right direction. If there are any questions or comments, please email me at thebroaderimpactsguy@gmail.com. I wish you all the very best on your NSF proposal submissions!

Written by:

Dr. Michael Thompson aka “The Broader Impacts Guy”

Michael was the Founding Director of the Broader Impacts in Research (BIR) organization, Senior Staff of the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR), and Affiliate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma (OU). Dr Thompson is a member of Social Value International (SVI) and Social/Societal Value United States (SV-US) which employs and embodies Social/Societal Return on Investment (SROI) methods and practice. Dr. Thompson is also a member of the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI). He served on the National Alliance for Broader Impacts (NABI) Working Group, which developed the Broader Impacts Guiding Principles and Questions for National Science Foundation Proposals.

Equitable Outcomes

Equitable Outcomes are just and right; fair; reasonable, real, viable, valuable, and sustainable benefits for participants and other beneficiaries as a result of the activities and outputs of an event performed in an accountable way. These should be benefits that advance, add, or contribute to the positive and not to the negative.

It is a concept and practice inherent to the field of Research and “Scholarship of Broader Impacts (SoBI)”. Scholarship of Broader Impacts (SoBI) was originally coined by coined by Oludurotimi Adetunji at Brown University.

The Equitable Outcomes concept is part of the Nature of Broader Impacts and is characterized and exemplified in the Broader Impacts Conceptual Framework (BICF).

Academic Research Impact Ecosystem Theory

What happens when you combine?

(1) Installation Theory – A synthetic theory to explain how humans construct systems that support and format individual behavior, by Saadi Lahlou,

(2) Theory of Change (TOC),

(3) Logic models, and

(4) Our working inclusive definition of Academic Research Impact – A marked positive, negative, and (in theory neutral) immediate, future, or far future effect or influence that happens inside the Academy and across disciplines on conceptual/theoretical understanding, expenditures, methods, applications, instruments, bibliometrics, attitudes, beliefs, values, perceptions, or capacity building and outside of the Academy on quality of life, health, economy, society/social, environments, policies, attitudes, beliefs, values, perceptions, services, cultures, laws, or technologies that is affiliated, associated, or in combination with, done through or generated as a result of direct and indirect academic research inputs, outputs, and mid-intermediate-long-term outcomes that are either aggregated or disaggregated in conjunction with different types and intensities of engagement at the individual, community, local, state, regional, national, and global level involving a variety of people, stakeholders, and end users.

You get a working Academic Research Impact Ecosystem Theory (picture below and still a work-in-progress) that helps: one to consider what is needed when thinking about Academic Research Impact Management; predict system to individual research impact behavior; plan Academic Research Impact; research impact accountability; and characterizing how Academic Research Impact progresses at an individual, micro, meso, and macro-level.

More to come soon!

Knowledge, Dissemination, the University, and the Economy of Knowledge Abundance

At some point in time (I hope it will be sooner than later) Universities (those in them) will have to reconsider how they are approaching the public in terms of their values, practices, and ideologies when it comes to knowledge dissemination.

Knowledge dissemination is a phrase that is used ubiquitously across the academic landscape. Originally, knowledge dissemination practices were based on the pre-Knowledge Abundance Economy Era or the Era of Knowledge Scarcity. In the Era of Knowledge Scarcity, Universities were considered by many to be a beacon of knowledge and thus it was imperative that Universities and the individuals in them set up mechanisms to provide knowledge to the public.

As more knowledge was provided and technological acuity increased it prompted the use and development of technological “Knowledge Systems”, (a.k.a. knowledge-based systems) – especially in the context of knowledge management (KM). In this context, a knowledge-base is defined as a collection of complex structured and unstructured information used by a computer system. This term, knowledge base (KB), was originally employed in connection with expert systems (a.k.a. experts).

So, it is not surprising to hear in Academic circles KB being used frequently in this way – “That we, individuals in the University, are contributing to the knowledge base”. Which is an approach that works very well within the context of traditional academic knowledge dissemination practices and ideology.

From an Academic perspective, there is a knowledge base/s and someone in the Academy will add to it. Again, this assumes that knowledge is stable, knowledge is wanted or needed, and that it is valued by the public.

If you are interested and want to read more click here.


Copyright and Citation of Work: Author holds copyright. This is an open access print distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. This paper is a work in progress and the author has made modifications to original work.

Citation for Original Work: Thompson, M. (2018). Knowledge and the Problem With the Practice of University Knowledge Dissemination to the Public in the Era of Knowledge Abundance. Authorea Repository. DOI: 10.22541/au.152993669.97084818.


A Research-Based Understanding and Approach to Broader Impacts

At some point in time, if we ever want to move past, “hear-say”, when it comes to broader impacts, we have to start treating broader impacts just like any other field and profession.

This means to hold ourselves accountable to a professional standard and stop with the anecdotal evidence and look at all of the data/facts and conduct rigorous research.

Once we begin to do those things we can then start to develop appropriate answers to questions that have been asked concerning broader impacts. I guess those are my two cents.

If you are interested in reading more about research and evidence-based approach to broader impacts click the link below.

Moving Towards A Research-Based Understanding and Approach to Broader Impacts

What is a Societal Benefit Organization (SBO)?

A Societal Benefit Organization (SBO) is an entity that is a for-benefit, for-society, for-profit, or nonprofit that either generates an earned income but gives top priority to an explicit social and/or societal mission or seeks a social and/or societal benefit without generating income. This approach can be found across a wide range of educational and academic institutions and industries. SBO’s pursue a myriad of important social/societal goals such as facilitating or achieving  broader impacts, facilitating or achieving valorization and knowledge mobilization, and community engagement. SBOs can also focus on several specific activities such as fighting drug addiction, reducing deaths from malaria, producing renewable energy, and reducing poverty.

The Research-Based Scholarly Definition of Broader Impacts

The research-based scholarly definition of broader impacts isa process with people/stakeholders to achieve a societal benefit in a finite time that is measured. This can be through one’s teaching, research, service, and occupation. There can be broader impacts of almost anything. If done appropriately broader impacts can lead to sustainable positive impacts” [1] [2] [3] [4].


[1]. Adetunji, O. and Renoe, S. (2017). Assessing Broader Impacts. MRS Advances, 1-6. Doi: 10.1557/ adv.2017.136.

[2]. Adetunji, O. and Thompson, M. (2016). The Broader Impacts Conceptual Framework (BICF) 2014 Lexicon Modification for the Brown University Engaged Scholarship and Broader Impacts Joint Committee Year End Report of 2015-2016. Brown University.

[3]. The Broader Impacts in Research (BIR) Organization. (2014). BI Definitions Guide: An abbreviated collection of explanations that begins to provide a common language when discussing, practicing, understanding, and better articulating the dimensions of broader impacts (BI). [Brochure]. [Norman, Oklahoma]. Thompson, M.

[4]. The Broader Impacts in Research (BIR) Organization. (2014). Broader Impacts Conceptual Framework (BICF) Lexicon. The University of Oklahoma. Thompson, M.