Altmetric is an indicator of the online attention received by an article, not an indicator of the quality of the research itself.
Altmetric is a tool that can help identify activity that could demonstrate research impact. Citations are not the only way that readers engage with research: articles can also be shared, mentioned and written about in many different contexts. Altmetric is not intended to replace traditional metrics like citations, but in some cases, it can be used to support traditional metrics to highlight interest in research that couldn’t be measured in a citation count.
This is especially important if your research is available to be read by the public, commercial partners or other interested parties. These readers typically won’t be citing your work, but they could be engaging online with it in another way and Altmetric might be able to demonstrate this.
Altmetric looks for references to academic publications in non-academic sources such as:
- Local and international news sources
- Social media
- Patent applications
- Policy documents
College staff and students can access Altmetric to search for publications that might have associated activity that has been picked up by the tool.
Before using the tool, read the essential advice below to help you make sense of Altmetric results.
Altmetric strengths and weaknesses
- Your research could be read by and have influenced members of the public, professionals in industry, undergraduate students, science journalists and others outside of active research. But, typically, these readers do not publish articles that will cite research so this evidence of impact will be lost in a traditional citation count. However, it might be shown as activity in Altmetric.
- The waiting period between an article being published and it having impacted other published work to then receive a citation can be lengthy. If you are looking for early signs of impact, there might be activity from blogs, social media and news outlets when the article is first published. You could even get an Altmetric report for a pre-print (see below).
- Alternative metrics are not limited to just journal articles, any scholarly output with an identifier can be tracked. For example, a preprint with an arXiv ID, a dataset or file with a DOI or a book with an ISBN could be searched for in Altmetric by that identifier.
- The numeric score in the centre of the donut is not a transparent value and it is weighted by qualities set by Altmetric in their algorithm. Imperial users are encouraged to disregard the score and instead judge the output’s performance based on their own research evaluation values.
- Attention is not necessarily always for a positive reason. An article could have a high Altmetric score because readers are disputing its claims.
- Some areas of research, such as applied medical research, can be well covered in the press due to public interest in the subject. The interest (or lack of) from social media users and news outlets could partly be due to the topic of the research and is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of the publication. For this reason, Altmetric should not be used to compare papers from different disciplines.
- There is a possibility that not all users who, for example, tweet about an article will have read it. There can even also be artificial activity created by bot accounts or promotion from parties with a self-interest to promote or discuss the research. It should not be assumed that all online activity represents genuine engagement.
- Researchers that are active on social media, particularly those with a large following might have an advantage over researchers without social media accounts.