What are bibliometrics and altmetrics?

Metrics are quantitative measures designed to help people evaluate research outputs. There are many types of metric available, but this guide focuses on those designed to help track the attention received by research outputs.


These metrics focus on papers published in academic journals and are therefore most useful within academic disciplines where journal papers are the primary research output.

Citation metrics (often called bibliometrics)

As the name suggests, citation metrics measure citations or references between published works. The underlying assumption of these metrics is that citations indicate a level of interest and influence within the scholarly community.

How do citation metrics work?

Bibliometrics tools usually use data collected by one of the three large citation databases: Dimensions, Web of Science, Scopus or Google Scholar. These databases record the number of times that a journal article has been cited by other papers (although usually only papers indexed in the same database).

Each database covers a slightly different set of journals and subject disciplines, although there is a good deal of overlap, therefore the citation count for the same paper in one database may be different to that in another. 

This citation data can then be analysed in various ways. The key bibliometric tools offer a range of different metrics - the best one for your purposes will depend on what you wish to measure.

See more detail about the ues of bibliometrics and altmetrics

Alternative or complementary metrics (often called altmetrics)

Alternative or complementary metrics (often called altmetrics) are another way to assess the attention received by research outputs. Whilst bibliometrics use citations as a measure of scholarly interest in a research paper, altmetrics focus on online activity to reveal how research is being shared and discussed both within the academic community and beyond. Altmetrics can also be used to track attention received by other forms of research output such as software, data sets, conference slides, performance and more.

How do alternative metrics work?

Alternative metrics tools track mentions, likes and shares on a variety of platforms including Mendeley, bookmarking sites, academic networking sites, social media, news sites and policy documents. 

Altmetrics generally track attention to outputs using a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) or links (URL) to the paper online. Whilst citations can take years to build up, alternative metrics can give a 'live' picture of how research is being shared and discussed. 

The University subscribes to Altmetric.com.

See further information on using Altmetrics

What these metrics can't do

Metrics can't provide a simple answer to complex questions. As a measure of attention, these metrics can only tell you so much about the quality, impact of research and researchers. Research may receive attention for negative reasons - for example, a paper may be cited as an example of a flawed study.

Metrics can also be influenced by a number of external factors, including academic discipline and career stage, so care needs to be taken to make sure your judgement isn't swayed by these factors.

Metrics are intended to be used in conjunction with qualitative measures such as peer-review. 

See guidance on using metrics responsibly

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