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Altmetrics: A Quick Beginner’s Guide for Researchers

In today’s rapidly changing digital landscape there are more ways than ever to share research articles and track their impact online. Researchers are often required to share evidence of their community outreach, i.e. how their journal articles, books, presentations, reports, conference proceedings, data sets, etc. are being discussed by different groups of people (the general public, policy makers, other researchers in the same field and others, etc). Altmetrics are a great way for researchers to understand and track the potential impact of research.

So what exactly are altmetrics? The word “altmetrics” stands for "alternative metrics." These are metrics and data sourced from discussion happening online that help inform a researcher of the impact and reach of his or her work. They are an alternative or complement to more traditional citation impact metrics, such as impact factor and h-index. Altmetrics can help researchers answer questions such as:

Altmetrics can be gathered from any online forum where research is being discussed; for example:

1) Policy documents 
Policy documents are defined as any policy, guidance, or guidelines document from a governmental or non-governmental organization.

2) Mainstream media
The news sources page on the Altmetric website shows the latest list of news sources that are commonly tracked. This list currently extends to over 2,700 English and non-English global news outlets.  

3) Blogs
There are over 11,000 academic and non-academic blogs that can be tracked automatically via RSS feeds.  

4) Online reference managers

5) Post-publication peer-review forums

6) Social media

7) Patent citations
Patent citations from nine jurisdictions around the world can be tracked. Patents are a type of intellectual property that are held by either an inventor or a holder.

Altmetric's patent data comprises nine different jurisdictions:

8) Other online sources

Some important notes: Altmetrics are meant to help complement traditional citations, not replace them. Experts agree altmetrics are useful in combination with traditional methods and expert peer review. Altmetrics can be very useful for tenure evaluations, grant applications, discovering new research, and choosing journal subscriptions. It should be noted that altmetrics are time dependent; for older works, there may not be much altmetrics activity, but this does not necessarily mean that the work is/was not heavily used, viewed, and shared.

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