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Scholarly Communication

Publishing, Disseminating and Discovering your Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities

Measuring the Impact of Research

One of the many challenges faced by scholars is to identify the impact their scholarship is having in their respective disciplines. This need is frequently driven by promotion and tenure. Alternatively, they may be interested in locating the most important research being done in their field. What are the important ideas now shaping opinions, methods, and research? The impact of published scholarship is also important for institution-level evaluation conducted by university and college administrations and for collection building and maintenance projects conducted by the library.

Traditionally, journal impact factors have been utilized to calculate the impact of scholarship. The impact factor came into use during the 1970s through the work of Eugene Garfield. Calculated as the average number of cited articles divided by the number of citable items in a journal in the past two years, the impact factor illuminates which journals are most influential in a scholar’s given field. In other words, it is a measure of how often a journal is cited by other journals in a field. 

The journal impact factor is still used today as a measure of the relative importance of a journal within its field. However, there has been growing dissatisfaction with reliance upon the traditional journal impact factors due to the time lag in assessment that they impose since journals take time to accrue citations, the prospect of gaming the system, and the risk of elevating the rank of an article that is cited as a cautionary or corrective tale to the scholarly community. As a result different metrics have emerged including author and article level metrics and alternative metrics, which rely upon social media, reference/bibliography creation software and other non-traditional citations. Additionally, tools are available to researchers to create profiles that track their individual impact and correctly and consistently identify what research outputs are the product of their efforts.

Impact Factors - A Critical Review

The following resources offer a critical look at traditional measurements of impact:


As more information is disseminated electronically, researchers will come to interact with that information on the open web in a variety of ways and through many different platforms and media types. Altmetrics measures how many times a journal article is downloaded, shared, commented on, and cited in social media outlets and can provide a meaningful indicator of the impact an article has among different user populations.  One of the founders of the study of altmetrics Jason Priem and Bradley Hemminger have compiled a list of sources from which data can be collected and relayed back to scholars as meaningful impact data.  These sources fall into seven categories:

  1. Social bookmarking sites (Delicious, CitULike, Connotea)
  2. Reference managers (Mendeley, Zotero)
  3. Recommendation sites (Dig, Reddit, Friendfeed, Faculty of 1000)
  4. Publisher hosted comment spaces (PloS, British Medical Journal)
  5. Microblogging (Twitter)
  6. Blogs (WordPress, Blogger, Researchblogger)
  7. Social networks (Facebook, Nature Networks, Orkut)

Culling usage data from various social sites has several advantages.  First, sites which have open APIs (application programming interface) can be accessed immediately for up-to-date usage statistics – an advantage over traditional citations.  Second, a growing number of commercial platforms such as ImpactStory,, and Plum Analytics allow scholars to track usage of their works across several research blogs, journals, and user populations. This allows a granularity of data and presents a broader perspective of overall impact. It is important to note that altmetrics is not meant to replace traditional citation, but is best used in conjunction with citations for an overall picture of scholarly impact.

Additional Readings, Resources and Presentations on Altmetrics:

Impact Tools and Resources

There are a growing number of tools available to scholars to maximize their impact, whether through proper identification of themselves as the creator of a product of research or through social media like profile pages highlighting their expertise and output. Libraries can assist scholars in maximizing their impact by promoting author identification tools such as ORCID, sharing data on open access publishing and citation rates, and directing scholars to sites that allow them to develop there own social media like researcher profile pages. 

Tips and Tools for Maximizing Impact

  • ORCID - ORCID (Open Researcher and Contribution ID) aims to solve the name ambiguity problem in scholarly communications by creating a registry of persistent unique identifiers for individual researchers and an open and transparent linking mechanism between ORCID, other ID schemes, and research objects such as publications, grants, and patents.
  • The Becker Medical Library at Washington University of St. Louis has put together a very extensive and comprehensive list of tips and tools to help scholars to maximize their impact. 
  • London School of Economics Handbook for Social Scientists on Maximizing Impact of Research
  • Google Scholar Citations  = researchers can also create a public profile with their articles and citation metrics. If the profile is public, it can appear in Google Scholar search results when someone searches for your name.
  • Article covering the variety of researcher services that are available: Making Sense of Researcher ServicesJournal of Library Administration (2016)
  • Consider submitting your works to Cornerstone: A Collection of Scholarly and Creative Works!  Cornerstone showcases the intellectual output of Minnesota State University, Mankato's faculty, staff, and students by preserving their works digitally and presenting them to the world in an easy-to-find format. With Cornerstone, author's will get monthly readership reports that allow the author to view download counts, learn where their work was downloaded (across the globe) and discover which institutions and organizations accessed their works. 

Using Open Access to Increase Impact

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