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What are 'altmetrics'?

The term altmetrics was first coined around 2010, describing the growing changes to academic impact measurement and is derived from ‘article level metrics’. In the wake of social media there is a desire to demonstrate impact incorporating new technologies alongside the established Journal Impact Factors and h-index. One definition describes altmetrics as “the study and use of scholarly impact measures based on activity in online tools and environments” (Goth, 2014) whilst another describes altmetrics as “the creation and study of new metrics based on the Social Web for analyzing, and informing scholarship” (altmetrics, no date).

As well as articles, altmetrics can also be applied to people, journals, data sets, presentations, web pages, and so on. Altmetrics look at not just how many times something has been officially cited but how many views, downloads, mentions and discussions (particularly in social media) have surrounded a piece of work. Unlike journal impact factors, altmetrics reflect the impact of the individual article, as opposed to the journal, and includes impact from sources that are not peer reviewed.

Why use them?

As we are aware, citations from peer reviewed journals (the more widely accepted measurement of research impact) can take a considerable time, even years to appear. Altmetrics can be useful for providing an early picture of the potential impact of a paper. This could be useful, for example, when evaluating the work of an early career researcher or a recently published, as yet uncited, paper. The peer review system has also been seen as unfair to younger researchers who are unable to “get a foothold in the premier league publications” and as a result miss out on funding opportunities that follow (Euroscientist, 2014).

Some authors have used social media to raise awareness and generate interest in their research. An example of this is demonstrated by Terras (2012) where she blogs that before she tweeted and blogged about her articles, they had on average one to two downloads in her (UCL) institutional repository. Within 24 hours of blogging and tweeting there were on average 70 downloads. Since then, 7 out of 10 of the most downloaded papers in her department are authored by her.

Altmetrics: a manifesto

Issues around altmetrics

Existing metrics for estimating impact commonly cause controversy. Like these other systems, altmetrics are prone to self-citation, and are open to abuse by the ability to boost one's apparent impact. There is, however, a need in the community for an ability to demonstrate impact, particularly to funders. 

The following articles provide more information on the issues involved when understanding the role of altmetrics and the benefits and pitfalls of using them to assess research impact: 

1.Rise of ‘Altmetrics’ revives questions about how to measure impact of research – June 2013, Chronicle of Higher Education
2.Scientists don’t count: why you should ignore altmetrics and other bibliometric nightmares – January 2014, DC’s Improbable Science blog
3.Evaluating altmetrics – February 2014, Scientometrics
4.Do altmetrics work? Twitter and ten other web services – May 2013, PLOS One
5.Research Intelligence - Alt-metrics: fairer, faster impact data? – August 2012, Times Higher Ed
6.Can Tweets Predict Citations? Metrics of Social Impact Based on Twitter and Correlation with Traditional Metrics of Scientific Impact -  Evsenbach, G. , JMIR,  2011
7.Mentors, mates or metrics: what are the alternatives to peer review? - See more at: – euroscientist, January 2014

Find out more

Useful links

Stay informed

Finally, you may be interested in an article published in 2013 titled “Effective Strategies for Increasing Citation Frequency” by Ebrahim et al at: (Note: 33 suggestions are listed in this paper, including number 16 which advises “Publish papers with a Nobel laureates (Ball 2011”…)


Altmetrics (no date) about altmetrics [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 19 February 2014).
Ebrahim, N.A., Salehi, H., Embi, M.A., Tanha, F.H., Gholizadeh, H., Motahar, S.M. and Ordi, A. (2013) ‘Effective strategies for increasing citation frequency’, International Education Studies, 6(11), pp. 93-99 [Online]. Available at:
 (Accessed: 21 February 2014).
Euroscientist (2014) 
Mentors, mates or metrics: what are the alternatives to peer review? [Blog]. Available at:
(Accessed: 19 February 2014).
Goth, P. (2014) Altmetrics: building a broader picture of impact [Online]. Available at:
 (Accessed: 19 February 2014).
Terras, M. (2012) Is blogging and tweeting about research papers worth it? The verdict [Blog]. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2014)