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Research Metrics: Introduction

What is research impact?

Metrics are a way to see the impact of a scholar's work. Tools to track and measure impact are designed to help researchers understand how their work is being used and how it fits into the scholarship of their field overall. For example:

  • How widely is my work being cited in other scholarly publications?
  • How widely is my work being read?
  • Who is reading and using my work? What subsequent scholarship have I influenced?
  • How do articles that I published in a particular journal compare to articles that I published elsewhere?
  • What influence does my work have outside of academia?

Understanding the impact of one's research can help scholars build tenure and promotion cases, select publication outlets for future work, and identify potential collaborators.

The research metrics and tools described on this guide help researchers to quantify some measures of the influence of their work.


How to use metrics?

Rules of thumb:

  • Use at least two different metrics for assessment.  Each metric has its strengths and weaknesses. Selecting metrics that balance each other reduces the possibility of inadvertent favoritism or penalization.
  • Compare "apples to apples" not "apples to oranges."  Do not mix scores from different metrics as each metric uses different sources to obtain data. 
  • Include qualitative assessment in addition to numerical metrics.  As tempting as just using the raw data may be, the numbers must be put in context.  Is the citation count due to positive or negative reasons? How does the count compare to others in the same subject field, the same journal and the same timeframe?  Is the count increasing or decreasing with each successive year? 

Metrics levels

Journal-level metrics are intended to describe the influence of a journal overall. The Journal Impact Factor is the most widely used metric at this level.

Author-level metrics aggregate the metrics of all of an author's publications to summarize his or her career overall. These metrics include the h-index and related measures, as well as citation totals.

Article-level metrics include any measures of the influence of a single publication. The most metrics are available for journal articles, but some can apply to books, chapters, or other individual publications. They include times cited, article downloads, and most Altmetrics.

Alternative Metrics assess other measures of use and influence, such as the number of times a publication is read, downloaded, saved, or cited in popular sources. These metrics compliment journal, author and article-level metrics which are based in counting citations among scholarly publications.

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Dianne Johnson
Wake Forest University School of Medicine
Coy C. Carpenter Library

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