Alternative metrics for research impact
This resource is intended to help you to understand what altmetrics are, why they are important, how to make use of them, and to provide some advice on how to maximise your score. Click on the tabs below to go directly to the subject most of interest to you. There is no need to navigate through the information in a particular order. If you have any comments on this resource, or would like support with using alternative materics (altmetrics), click the button below.
What are alternative metrics?
Traditionally, the impact of research has largely been measured using citations. However, citations and peer-reviewed publications represent only one aspect of research impact. Further, datasets, tools, software, videos and websites produced as part of the research may be just as important, but these do not contribute to the score in traditional metrics for research impact.
Alternative metrics, often called altmetrics, are measures of how well research is disseminated in society. Specifically, alternative metrics consider factors like social media mentions, blog discussions, media coverage, and patents. They are not a replacement to traditional metrics, rather an addition to them. There are three main providers of solutions for measuring alternative metrics:
- Altmetric.com: from Digital Science.
- Impactstory: A product of OurResearch.
- PlumX: A product of Plum Analytics, component of Elsevier.
Alternative metrics are also available from many journal publishers. Publishers like Elsevier, Nature, Springer, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley collect this information so that you can know the altmetric score of a specific publication. Below is a wordcloud showing all of the types of sources monitored by PlumX, please note that the size of the word does not indicate relative importance or number of e.g. blogs monitored.
References used to create this resource
Materials from several other resources and guides were used to compile this resource:
Why use alternative metrics?
Quicker measurement: It takes 2 years for traditional metrics to be considered reliable indicators. With alternative metrics, it takes just 3 months, so you can know more about the attention that your research is getting in a relatively short space of time. This can be particularly important for scientific domains characterised by slower growth rates, emerging areas of research, and for early-career researchers and principal investigators (PIs) who might not have accumulated a substantial number of citations yet.
Communication: You can use alternative metrics to evaluate how you could communicate your research more effectively. For example, you can see if you are getting less attention on one type of platform and concentrate more effort there. You can also use alternative metrics to show that you have communicated very effectively; adding alternative metrics to your CV has become increasingly common.
Scholarly reputation: Alternative metrics can be used to give insight into how your research is discussed both within your specific field and in the research community at large. Enhancing your presence in the research sphere, for example by engaging in open online discussions about your research outputs and by sharing data, not only contributes to a vibrant research environment but also introduces the possibility of encountering novel collaborators, funders, and research prospects.
Societal impact: Alternative metrics enable researchers to understand how their research is spread in society, and how it might be used outside of academia. This includes interest and use by the general public, government, policymakers, and industry.
Reporting: Alternative metrics are being included in the reporting by institutions/organisations (e.g. SciLifelab). For institutions/organisations, it can be important to show that their research is being rapidly disseminated in society. For example, to show that they are making a difference in emerging or relatively slow-growing areas of research.
Points to be aware of when using altmetric data
Tracking issues: Altmetric data providers rely on stable, persistent identifiers to effectively trace scholarly outputs; however, not all outputs have these identifiers. Additionally, certain identifiers, like the digital object identifier (DOI), are relatively new.
Lack of normalisation: Due to the absence of established standards in the presentation of altmetric data, comparisons across different sources are difficult.
Time-sensitive nature: Given the recent emergence of altmetric data providers and their associated sources (mainly from 2011 to the present), altmetric data is often irrelevant for older research outputs.
Considering sentiment: It’s essential to keep in mind that online attention can include both positive and negative aspects. An article’s high altmetric score might be attributed to unfavourable attention, while exceptionally high-quality research could have generated limited online visibility in the altmetric sources. This aspect is relevant to citations and article views, but holds particular significance with the altmetric score for a research output.
How to use alternative metrics?
There are differences between the major platforms for measuring alternative metrics in terms of the types of metrics they provide and their approach to tracking impact. To make the most out of your altmetric score, it is important to be aware of these differences and how they affect the score.
Some factors to consider when choosing a platform for tracking research metrics:
- Type of metrics: Consider the types of metrics that are most relevant to your research questions and goals. For example, if you are interested in tracking the online attention received by your research, altmetric.com might be a good choice. If you are interested in a wider range of metrics, including usage, captures, and social media, PlumX might be a better choice.
- Data sources: Consider the data sources used by each platform. For example, altmetric.com tracks mentions on social media, news articles, and blogs, while PlumX integrates with other data sources, such as grant and patent data.
- User interface: Consider the user interface and how easy it is to use each platform. You may want to try out different platforms to see which one you find most intuitive and user-friendly.
Platforms used for altmetrics
Altmetric.com is primarily focused on tracking the online attention that research outputs receive, such as mentions on social media, news articles, and blogs. Altmetric.com provides a donut-shaped visualisation that summarises the sources and volume of online attention received by a research output, as well as a numerical Altmetric Attention Score that reflects the overall level of attention received.
- How to access metrics: Altmetric.com provides a range of freely accessible tools for general use. Among these tools is the Altmetric Bookmarklet, which enables the direct viewing of the altmetric score for any of your research outputs in your browser, if they have a persistent identifier. Altmetric.com also offers a dedicated section designed for researchers, known as Tools for Researchers. This segment offers various resources to aid researchers, including the ability to discover the score for a specific research output, integrate the altmetric.com badge onto your personal page, and gain insight into best practices for describing altmetric scores. For institutions, the Altmetric Explorer is available with a subscription, allowing researchers to delve into their comprehensive altmetric.com score. Through this feature, you can discern where your research is drawing attention and explore strategies for potentially enhancing your score. To access the Altmetric Explorer, reach out to your institution’s library for relevant information.
PlumX provides a wider range of metrics than altmetric.com, including metrics related to usage, captures, mentions, and social media. PlumX also provides a visualisation that summarises the volume of activity across these different categories of metrics, as well as a Plum Print that summarises the distribution of activity across different types of metrics. PlumX also includes integration with other data sources, such as grant and patent data.
- How to access metrics: You can seamlessly incorporate PlumX metrics into your website with Embed Metrics - Plum Analytics. PlumX offers integrations across various platforms and journal websites. Additionally, institutional subscriptions are provided, enabling institutions to access altmetric data through PlumX Dashboards at different levels, including researcher, subject, journal, school/program, and institute/centre. To ascertain whether your institution has a subscription, get in touch with your institution’s library.
Impactstory focuses on providing metrics and analytics that support the use of research for social good. Impactstory provides metrics related to the reach, openness, and societal impact of research outputs, as well as tools for exploring the connections between research outputs and the broader research ecosystem. Impactstory also provides badges that recognise research outputs for various types of impact, such as being highly cited or having an open licence.
Maximise your score
By working actively with alternative metrics as a tool, researchers can enhance their understanding of their research field and contribute to raising awareness within their domain.
Discover what is being measured: Not all activities are tracked by alternative metrics providers, meaning that not all actions will influence your score. Refer to the providers in the ‘How to use altmetrics’ tab to determine which activities are monitored, aiding you in identifying actions that could potentially boost your score.
Game the system: It’s crucial to not only consider what is being measured, but also how scores are computed. This knowledge can be leveraged to your advantage, maximising the impact of your efforts. For instance, original tweets tend to contribute more to your score compared to retweets, and only one tweet from each account counts. Consequently, having multiple individuals create original tweets about your work is more effective. Additional information about the calculation of scores can be found on the web pages of the different altmetric score providers.
Get a persistent identifier: Alternative metric scores are typically linked to unique identifiers, like DOI, PMID, and ISBN. These identifiers can be obtained in many different ways, for example, by uploading your work to PubMed or uploading your data to certain repositories (e.g. SciLifeLab Data Repository).
Make your resources easily shareable: Research outputs extend beyond publications. They could also include, for example, data and promotional materials, like videos, presentation slides, and posters. By making these resources easily shareable and trackable by alternative metrics providers (e.g. by obtaining a unique identifier, like a DOI), you can significantly increase the dissemination of your work with minimal effort. A straightforward way to achieve this is by uploading these additional outputs to a general repository (e.g SciLifeLab Data Repository) and subsequently promoting them in social media.
Write lay summaries: One effective strategy to garner more attention is by providing a lay or popular science summary of your work. A convenient approach could involve collaborating with the SciLifeLab Data Platform to transform your work into a data highlight. These highlights can either be authored by the SciLifeLab Data Platform team or by you/your team.
Embrace open access: Sharing your work becomes more seamless when it’s openly accessible. Aligning with FAIR and open science principles while publishing will likely optimise your alternative metrics score. For detailed practices, you can refer to resources like the SciLifeLab Research Data Management Guidelines.
Engage your communications department: Communications departments are often eager to disseminate your research, so reaching out to them for research promotion is recommended.
Strategically place your work on websites: Alternative metrics providers generally scan page content and not headers or footers. Therefore, it’s vital to ensure that the links to your work are placed within the actual content of pages.
Get talking: Actively participating in conferences to discuss your research and bringing along your easily shareable resources can be highly beneficial in improving your alternative metrics score, as you increase your audience and, therefore, the attention that your work receives.