Beyond the Donut – Five Ways to Use Altmetrics for Academic Success

A plate of colourful doughnuts. Punning on Altmetrics use of a doughnut in their indicator.

A decade has passed since their inception, Andy Tattersall looks at how scientists can use altmetrics in ways that go beyond counts and metrics.

When the term “altmetrics” first appeared in September 2010 on Twitter ImpactHistory co-founder Jason Aug, this made many scientists shudder. A new set of metrics for researchers to measure and evaluate, and possibly an attempt to completely replace traditional citation-based bibliometrics. It turns out that this was never really the case. Although those who questioned this new set of metrics probably did, as it was difficult to look beyond the numbers, in particular the altmetric score developed by

In fact, other numbers already existed, such as Mendeley Saves, which shows how many Mendeley users have saved a particular link, and which Professor Mike Thelwall has shown to be strong. citation indicator. Perhaps cognitive dissonance also took place in some corners of the academic community, where scientists suffering from a sort of Stockholm syndrome felt protected from traditional metrics such as h-index and impact factor estimates. It is better to have an erroneous metric – you know how to play, than a potentially new and more complex one. However,’s score remains a useful indicator because if your work scores high, it shows that the research is being discussed and shared. Potentially, this coverage could be extended to a range of platforms, including the media and politics. As I wrote for this blog in 2016, pretty much the most useful number is zero.

Altmetrics still offers a lot of potential, but it’s been 13 years since the original altmetrics came out. manifesto we are still learning how to fully use the toolbox which now includes PlumX, Overton And BMJ Impact Analytics. Here are five ways I’ve found altmetrics to be useful beyond just scoring numbers and just telling us which journal articles are getting attention.

Find your blogging niche

Journals and other academic sites continue to share ideas and new research through blogs. You might be forgiven for thinking that blogs are no longer in vogue, but they still offer a practical and cheap way to disseminate research in an accessible form to a wide and specialized audience. I used data to see what research is being discussed and what blogs are reporting. This works as a recommendation tool for suggesting potential blogs to guest post based on a research topic I searched on It shows which blogs are covering the topic and any subsequent altmetrics related to the article discussed in said blog.

Find out if your research is being published

As I wrote earlier, an score of 0 or a very low score potentially indicates two things. First, your research is not discussed or published (even by you) anywhere on the many platforms that are tracked by altmetric instruments. Secondly, there is a chance that your study will be shared on social media and other knowledge platforms, but in a way that will not have identifiers that help altmetry tools track studies. While this may be more likely for older studies, newer academic publications should have at least received a few tweets. If your research scores low, then at least you know what you can do – communicate and share it.

An incentive to create public versions of your research

Academic librarians are the strongest advocates of institutional open access repositories and the benefits of authors uploading their own versions of manuscripts to the repository. A good example of the benefits was shared with me by a librarian at my institution in the first year of the pandemic. A news story titled “How to make your home and garden more peaceful” appeared on various media platforms, including Yahoo! News, after an article in Talk. The article is linked to the repository hosted by open access version a peer-reviewed journal article on the subject from the University of Sheffield. The official journal article was published behind a paywall, but The Conversation link led readers to a PubMed entry that linked to the repository version. The version of the repository was picked up by seven news outlets and four blogs.

Register of Experts

I’ve hosted several events at my institution and for external staff, and altmetrics is a useful tool when you’re trying to find speakers. Finding speakers requires two things: that they be experts and speak about their topic with some degree of confidence. For one particular event I co-hosted that was publicly featured, I used to find out which speakers on a fairly niche topic received some form of altmetric coverage. In particular, I looked for those whose research was somehow covered in the media or on blogs. Using these features, I could quickly study their activities and find out whose research had broken out of the academic bubble.

Identification of potential routes of exposure

As Overton and their BMJ-commissioned offshoot Impact Analytics have entered the scene, we have the opportunity to begin looking further into how research is cited in policy and clinical guidelines. While most scientists may not realize how much, if any, they are cited in policy and clinical guidelines, this can be very helpful when trying to capture pathways of influence. The process of collecting and storing evidence of impact remains challenging, but such tools shed light on what impact your research can have. Not only can these metrics show past impact, but they also open up the possibility of future collaborations with third parties such as charities, think tanks, and government organizations. To increase the chances that this will happen, action is required on your part, either by directly engaging stakeholders or by strategically quoting and engaging with them. Altmetrics provides information to get you started with this, but be warned: always check citations and policies to make sure both are concrete evidence.

Altmetrics may be in their teens now, but there’s still a lot to be gained by getting serious about how we use these platforms. If we look beyond the numbers, we will find meaning and useful information.

If you liked this post, you can read all of Andy Tattersall’s latest posts here.

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