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Altmetrics: what they are, tools to gather them and how to increase your altmetric scores.

What are Altmetrics?

altmetrics = alternative metrics


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.

A beginner's guide to altmetrics

Strengths and Weaknesses of Altmetrics


Speed Altmetrics can accumulate more quickly than traditional metrics such as citations.
Range Altmetrics can be gathered for many types of research output, not just scholarly articles.
Granularity Altmetrics can provide metrics at the article level, rather than journal level such as journal impact factors.
Detail Altmetrics can give a fuller picture of research impact using many indicators, not just citations.
Non-academic Altmetrics can measure impact outside the academic word, where people may use but not cite research.
Sharing If researchers get credit for a wider range of research outputs, such as data, it could motivate further sharing.


Standards There is a lack of standards for altmetrics.
Unregulated Altmetrics could be manipulated or gamed.
Reliability Altmetrics may indicate popularity with the general public rather than quality research.
Time There is no single widely used rating or score, and altmetrics can be time consuming to gather.
Difficulty Altmetrics can be difficult to collect, for example bloggers or tweeters may not use unique identifiers for articles.
Overload There are many different metrics and providers to choose from, and it can be hard to determine which are relevant.
Acceptance Many funders and institutions use traditional metrics to measure research impact.
Context Use of online tools may differ by discipline, geographic region, and over time, making altmetrics difficult to interpret.

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