Altmetric Blog

The missing piece: using Altmetric to complete the puzzle

Cat Williams, 17th August 2017

An idea first developed in 2010, altmetrics have now been widely adopted by publishers, and are increasingly used by institutions and funders to track and report on the immediate engagement and potential broader impacts of the research that they support.

In terms of understanding where a research output (such as a journal article, book, dataset, or other form of publication) has achieved reach and influence, altmetrics make up one part of a much bigger picture — a picture that also includes other qualitative (expert opinion, for example) and quantitative indicators (more traditional bibliometrics, usage counts, sales figures).

Without altmetrics, you risk missing an important part of that picture – even if the story to be told is that there has not yet been much engagement or reach beyond the immediate scholarly community.


Altmetrics at Altmetric

At Altmetric we took a unique approach to collating altmetrics: by tracking a list of sources and a list of domains where content is hosted, we aimed to capture as much as we could as often as we could.

Today this extends across multiple research types (articles, books, chapters, datasets, images, pre-prints, websites, press releases and more) and a list of attention sources selected for their relevance and quality – from the mainstream media to a growing list of policy outlets, social media networks, post-publication peer-review forums, and newer channels such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Reddit.

Recent additions of Open Syllabus data have helped give us and our users further insights into how book content is being used in teaching programs around the world, and new Explorer functionality has made it easier than ever to understand who is engaging most with your research.

Combined, these online mentions, shares and references represent a huge amount of data. To help people sort through it, and to provide an at-a-glance indicator of the attention an item has received, Altmetric assigns each item an ‘attention score’ – a weighted count of the mentions the item has received. (You can find a breakdown of the amount each source contributes to the score here).

By using the score, it’s easy to see what has gathered a lot of traction amongst a broader audience (perhaps for a particularly accessible topic, or simply a catchy title or funny mistake) and what remains more niche in the audiences it reaches.

What we have to keep in mind is that it is those niche audiences that might be the most important ones, or that a lack of mentions might indicate something more than a lot!


What is the attention score telling you?

3.5 million of the 8 million plus research outputs that Altmetric has found attention for have a score of 3 or higher. But if the score for your item is 3, which might seem kind of low, what does that actually mean?

It might mean, for example, that your work has been cited in a public policy document – this book, ‘Measuring the Impact of Gambling’, hasn’t achieved a wide reach in the news or on social media but it has become an important source for Australian Policy Online in the context of a wide range of social issues:



A reference on Wikipedia to your work will get you a score of 3 – a useful data point that points to the research contributing significantly to our shared understanding of a field. As an example, this 2010 article, The “island rule” and deep-sea gastropods: re-examining the evidence’ has been referenced on over 600 Wikipedia pages – demonstrating a huge influence on what is readily communicated to the public about a range of related topics:


It could also be that your work has actually been shared across several different social networks – exposing it to a variety of scholarly and non-scholarly audiences – as with this article, ‘Sick and Tired: Depression in the Margins of Academic Philosophy’. The article has an Attention Score of just 2, but has been shared by 4 different Tweeters, who have a combined following of almost 6,000 people, and on The Tanner Philosophy Library Facebook page, which is liked by over 250 people:

The 5 Mendeley readers (which do not count towards the attention score) also demonstrate academic interest from Master’s and PhD students.

For books, a score of just 1 can tell a really interesting story – ‘Violent land : single men and social disorder from the frontier to the inner city’ falls into this category, but has actually been included into the Syllabi  of 9 institutions across the US, showcasing its influence on what today’s students are learning:

But… what if my score is zero?

Just like low scores can tell a story, so can no score! When this happens, there are some things that are worth bearing in mind:

  1. The work might just not be relevant to a broader audience
    It’s ok to be niche! Some work is almost always going to be more popular with a broader audience – particularly topics that people can relate to or that have a more direct potential impact on their day-to-day lives. What’s most important is to figure out which people your publication is relevant to, and then figure out whether they are already seeing it. If so, great! If not, altmetrics can be used to see where other publications on the same topic are getting attention to help inform engagement activities you might want to undertake.
  2. Altmetrics are only part of the picture
    As mentioned above, altmetrics alone do not tell a complete story about a published piece of research – they contribute to a much bigger picture that includes other quantitative and qualitative insights. Without altmetrics, and whatever the attention score for your research output, you’re missing part of that picture. Gathering these insights and informing decisions about what to read, where to share, and understanding who is or isn’t engaging is crucial to ensuring you and your research are best positioned in today’s research climate.
  3. There is an opportunity here!
    One of the biggest benefits of altmetrics is that, like traditional citations, you can compare the data for your own research with that of others in your field. If they’re getting attention or engagement from places or audiences that might also be interested in your work, you can use that as a guide to start building an outreach plan. If you’re working behind the scenes at a journal publisher this can be done on an article by article or journal level – are there other journals in a specific subject area that get picked up a lot by certain bloggers or news outlets? Do you need to refine your comms strategy to reach those people? Are policy makers aware of your publication and on your mailing lists? Small efforts can make a big difference to the visibility of an article.

Looking for advice on how to increase the visibility of your publications and enhance your scholarly reputation? Register today for our upcoming webinar: Managing your scholarly reputation: the experts speak!


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