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Altmetrics, Bibliometrics and Scholarly Impact

Altmetrics refers to alternate measures of scholarly significance other than traditional measures of citation-based scholarly impact such as impact factor.

What are altmetrics?

altmetrics = alternative metrics

Traditionally, researchers have evaluated the impact of their research using citation counts, journal prestige (impact factor), and author H-index.  Altmetrics provide an alternate, or supplemental, way to measure impact by measuring the online interactions with scholarship, such as downloads, social media shares, or comments. Altmetrics are meant to complement, not replace, these traditional measures. Altmetrics also trace the impact of a wide variety of scholarly outputs, including articles, datasets, source code, patents, videos, and websites. 

Supporters of the altmetrics movement believe that using altmetrics will give a more complete picture of the reach and impact of research and scholarship.


"Altmetrics expand our view of what impact looks like, but also of what’s making the impact. This matters because expressions of scholarship are becoming more diverse."   

Altmetrics Manifesto


Altmetrics offer a lot of information. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when using and analyzing altmetrics data. 


Capture elements of societal impact
Altmetrics data can inform researchers of elements of the societal impact of their research. For example, altmetrics data can help researchers understand how their research is being interacted with by the public, government, policymakers, and other researchers.

Complement traditional metrics
Altmetrics provide a wider range of data, from a wider range of sources than traditional metrics. Altmetrics data is also highly nuanced and can be provided in high detail and in the context in which it originates.

Offer speed and discoverability
Altmetrics data accumulates at a faster speed compared to traditional metrics. In disciplines where citations grow slowly, or in the context of new researchers, this speed helps determine which outputs are gaining online attention.

Open access advantage
Providers like and ImpactStory provide access to their API and source code. Altmetrics providers also pull their data from open sources, who give access to their APIs or raw usage data, which makes altmetrics data more easily replicable than data in proprietary databases.


Altmetrics lack a standard definition
The field of altmetrics remains undecided on what altmetrics truly measure. However, the NISO Alternative Assessment Metrics (Altmetrics) Initiative is currently working to create a standard definition of the term and has a draft of its definition open for public comment

Altmetrics data are not normalized
It is not advised to compare between sources and datasets for altmetrics, as different providers collect different kinds of data. Instead, we suggest using altmetrics to tell a story about your research - see the "Use Cases" tab for more information.  

Almetrics are time-dependent
Altmetrics provide information about the use of the work, but much of this use has a lifespan - and that lifespan is unknown. For older works, there may not be much altmetrics activity, but that does not necessarily mean that the work is not heavily used!

Altmetrics have known tracking issues
Altmetrics work best with items that have a Digital Object Identifier (DOI). PlumX is one provider that can track usage of an item with only a URL, but not all providers provide the same level of tracking for items without DOIs. 


How they work

You probably already know that nearly everything on the internet is tracked. What you click can be used to inform website design, serve targeted adds, or as a simple measure of popularity. Altmetrics uses this ability to track interaction with online items as a way of measuring research impact and reach.

Altmetrics can answer questions such as:

  • How many times was it downloaded?
  • Who is reading my work? (on Mendeley, bookmarking sites, etc.)
  • Was it covered by any news agencies?
  • Are other researchers commenting on it?
  • How many times was it shared? (on Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Which countries are looking at my research?

What type of metrics is right for me?

For more discussion on all of the different kinds of metrics and use cases for each, visit the Metrics Toolkit. This toolkit also allows you to see appropriate metrics for different kinds of outputs for different scholarly fields.


This page was adapted from the Altmetrics guide from the University Library System, University of Pittsburgh.