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11.12.2014  |  SSP News & Releases

Altmetrics: An Introduction

With Suggestions for Further Reading by Katie Greenock, SSP Communications Committee.

In scholarly publishing, tracking the citation frequency of research can be a powerful tool to determine the reach and impact of the work. In recent years, it has become more common to measure this with altmetrics, as opposed to the traditional impact factor, or “the average number of citations of recent articles published in a journal” (Altmetric 2014). The term “altmetrics” can be defined as article-level metrics (in contrast to the journal-level impact factor) or simply as alternative metrics, as is discussed below. Altmetrics that measure article impact can provide a more specific view of the perceived merit of individual research articles and, in some cases, allow researchers to build an academic reputation that is not entirely dependent on the corresponding work of colleagues.

According to a recent article in Learned Publishing, “altmetrics” can also be used as a catch-all term for alternative metrics that do not measure traditional citations. In the case of this definition, altmetrics “seek to judge the impact of a research output by examining the number of times that it is viewed, downloaded, saved, discussed by the scientific community, and recommended to others” (Khodiyar et al. 2014, S27).

Tools like those offered by the London-based company Altmetric can even track articles being shared on social media or blogs, greatly expanding the definition of citation itself. Again, the use of altmetrics in this sense promotes the view that widespread propagation of scholarly work through social media and digital publishing can be both a measurable and, therefore, a worthy model of publication. Altmetrics also have the benefit of measuring the impact of research in real time, whereas traditional citation metrics can reflect a delay if the article has not yet been widely discovered, or if other articles citing the original article are still moving through the publication process.

Furthermore, altmetrics can recognize that the “peer-reviewed article is no longer the sole measure by which a researcher’s productivity can be assessed” (Khodiyar et al. 2014, S25). For example, altmetrics can measure comments so that “researchers could be evaluated both in terms of the individual’s contribution to post-publication discussions of others’ work, as well as by evaluations of the researcher’s own work by their peers” (Khodiyar et al. 2014, S28). Finally, altmetrics can measure the use of research in other formats, such as data sets, especially the measurement of downloads, views, and shares (Khodiyar et al. 2014, S30).

In this way, altmetrics not only represent an alternative mode of measuring research impact, they can actually expand the definition of research itself beyond traditional models such as articles, abstracts, literature reviews, and annotated bibliographies.

Works Cited

Altmetric. 2014. “Article-Level Metrics: Here Are the Basics.”

Khodiyar, Varsha K., Karen A. Rowlett, and Rebecca N. Lawrence. 2014. “Altmetrics as a Means of Assessing Scholarly Output.” Learned Publishing 27, special issue (September): S25–S32.

Suggestions for Further Reading, Viewing, and Listening

Arbesman, Samuel. 2012, 9 January. “New Ways to Measure Science.” Wired.

Gunn, William, Todd Carpenter, Elizabeth Iorns, Michael Habib, and Euan Adie. 2014, May. 21st Century Assessment: How Authors, Publishers, and Readers are Using Altmetrics.

PLOS Collections. 2012. Altmetrics Collection.

Scholarly Kitchen topic search: “Altmetrics.”

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. n.d. “Altmetrics.” Learn: Insider’s Guide to the Library.

Wills, Stewart. 2013, 1 July. “Jason Priem on Altmetrics, Today and Tomorrow.” Scholarly Kitchen Podcast.

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