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Scholarly Publication: All you need to know: Altmetrics

What is Altmetrics

Altmetrics are often referred to as if they are a single class of indicator, but they’re actually quite diverse and include:

A record of attention: This class of metrics can indicate how many people have been exposed to and engaged with a scholarly output. Examples of this include mentions in the news, blogs, and on Twitter; article pageviews and downloads; GitHub repository watchers.

A measure of dissemination: These metrics (and the underlying mentions) can help you understand where and why a piece of research is being discussed and shared, both among other scholars and in the public sphere. Examples of this would include coverage in the news; social sharing and blog features.

An indicator of influence and impact: Some of the data gathered via altmetrics can signal that research is changing a field of study, the public’s health, or having any other number of tangible effects upon larger society. Examples of this include references in public policy documents; or commentary from experts and practitioners.

Each of these different dimensions can tell a much more nuanced story of research’s value than citation counts alone are able to.


It is important to bear in mind that metrics (including citation-based metrics) are merely indicators–they can point to interesting spikes in different types of attention, etc but are not themselves evidence of such.

To get at true evidence of impact, you need to dig deeper into the numbers and look at the qualitative data underneath: who’s saying what about research, where in the world research is being cited, reused, read, etc, and so on.

More about Altmetrics

Advantages to using Altmetrics

Altmetrics have a number of advantages over citation-based metrics:

They are quicker to accumulate than citation-based metrics: By virtue of being sourced from the Web and not from journals and books, it’s possible to monitor and collate mentions of work online as soon as it’s published.

They can capture more diverse impacts than citation-based metrics: As described above, altmetrics can complement citations in that they help you to understand the many ‘flavours’ of impact research can have.

They apply to more than journal articles and books: Researchers are sharing their data, software, presentations, and other scholarly outputs online more than ever before. That means we can track their use on the Web as easily as we can for articles and books.

How to use Altmetrics

Altmetrics are becoming widely used in academia, by individuals (as evidence of influence for promotion and tenure and in applying for grants), institutions (for benchmarking a university’s overall performance), libraries (for making collections management decisions and understanding the use of IR and digital library content), and publishers (to benchmark their journals’ performance in specific subject areas) alike.

Some important things to bear in mind when using altmetrics include:

  • Context is king: It’s usually much more informative to say, “This article has received 89 Mendeley bookmarks, putting it in the 98th percentile compared to articles of a similar age and subject” than it is to say “This article has received 89 Mendeley bookmarks” alone. Give viewers of altmetrics a solid reference point when presenting the data.
  • Qualitative data is usually more illuminating than metrics alone: Presenting qualitative data alongside metrics can create a much more compelling case for research’s impact. For example, rather than saying, “This software has been mentioned in 32 news outlets,” you can say, “This software has been mentioned in 32 news outlets worldwide, including the New York Times and The Guardian.”
  • Altmetrics are a great supplement to citations: Even with the increased acceptance of altmetrics, citations are still the most recognised proxy for impact in many disciplines. Create a more comprehensive picture of research influence by including both types of metrics together where possible.


There are a number of limitations to the use of altmetrics:

  • Altmetrics don’t tell the whole story: As described above, altmetrics are a complement to, not a replacement for, things like informed peer review and citation-based metrics. Think of altmetrics as just one tool of many you’ve got in your toolbox for understanding the full impact of research.
  • Like any metric, there’s a potential for gaming of altmetrics: Anyone with enough time on their hands can artificially inflate the altmetrics for their research. That’s why altmetrics providers like AltmetricPLOS and SSRN have measures in place to identify and correct for gaming. Don’t forget to look at the underlying qualitative data to see who has been talking about the research, and what they’ve been saying.
  • Altmetrics are relatively new, more research into their use is needed: Though we’re learning a lot about how often research is shared online, we don’t yet know a lot about why–more research is needed. Until we know more, use and interpret altmetrics carefully.

Discover the attention surrounding your research

AlmetricAltmetric tracks a range of sources to capture and collate this activity, helping you to monitor and report on the attention surrounding the work you care about.

Altmetrics are alternative metrics used to measure the impact of research.

The term altmetrics was first proposed in a tweet by Jason Priem in 2010, and further detailed in a manifesto.

The term is not clearly defined, but can be characterised by a number of related descriptions:

i) Measures of impact based on online activity, which are mined or gathered from online tools and social media. For example:

  • tweets, mentions, shares or links,
  • downloads, clicks or views,
  • saves, bookmarks, favourites, likes or upvotes,
  • reviews, comments, ratings, or recommendations, 
  • adaptations or derivative works, and
  • readers, subscribers, watchers, or followers.

ii) Metrics for alternative research outputs, for example citations to datasets.

iii) Other alternative ways of measuring research impact.

Altmetrics can be used as an alternative, or in addition, to traditional metrics such as citation counts and impact factors. 

Image: Altmetric bookmarklet result for the article: Piwowar, H. (2013). Altmetrics: value all research products. Nature, 493(7431), 159-159. Screenshot taken Nov 4 2014.


Databases and eJournals with embedded information from Altmetric

Many databases and e-journals now have Altmetric information embedded in the articles' pages.

Look out for an Altmetric box, Am score button, Article metrics link, or similar, and click through to view the full article-level metrics.

If a database or e-journal does not have embedded altmetric information, you can use the Altmetric bookmarklet.

For some examples, see the databases and e-journals below:

Major altmetric data aggregators

There are three main tools which aggregate altmetrics from a wide variety of different websites and online tools:



Plum Analytics (PlumX)     

Make sure your research is tracked

By following these 3 easy steps you can get your research to be tracked in Altmetric Explorer.

  1. Deposit your research and other outputs:
    • Before your research and other outputs can be tracked by Altmetrics Explorer My Institution they must be deposited in University of Melbourne’s Minerva Access or Minerva Elements.
    • If your research output has no identifier (eg a DOI), you need to deposit it into Minerva Access or Figshare. This generates a handle which acts like a DOI, for a direct link to your research output.
      NOTE: Check to see if your research output is already mentioned by switching to the Full Altmetric database.
  2. Mention specific research outputs:
    • When you tweet, blog, Facebook, etc, aim to mention specific articles and other research outputs - it’s the research output itself that is tracked by Altmetric Explorer.
  3. Include a direct link:
    • To be tracked by Altmetric Explorer it is best to include a direct link to the research output using a unique identifier (this can be adapted using a link shortener like bitly or Twitter’s own).
    • These identifiers include any form of DOI, Minerva handle, PubMed ID, ISBN, or link to the publisher site