What are bibliometrics & altmetrics?

Metrics are quantitative measures designed to help 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, but metrics for other research outputs are in development.

Citation metrics (often called bibliometrics)

Citations in academic journals are an indication of the interest in, and importance of, particular research papers within the scholarly community. A citation is the act of one author referencing the work of another - and is usually an indication that a paper has influenced subsequent research in some way.

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 aspect of citation behaviour you wish to measure. View the 'What to use metrics for and when' page for more detail. 

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. Although alternative metrics are relatively new, they are increasingly being incorporated into publisher's platforms and academic databases.

The University subscribes to Altmetric.com. 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, success or impact of research and researchers. For example research may receive attention for negative reasons (e.g. a high altmetric score might be obtained by a controversial or 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. Guidance on using metrics responsibly