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Measuring research impact

Limitations of bibliometrics

Bibliometrics are quantitative measures that provide just one part of the picture. Ideally they should be used in conjunction with other data such as funding received, number of patents, awards granted and peer review.

Limitations of bibliometrics can include:

  • Quality: high citation counts may not indicate quality. An article may be cited frequently because other authors are refuting its findings.
  • Discipline variation: some research fields cite papers more than others. For example, in medicine and health there is a strong culture of citing and using other studies to validate findings.
  • Level of researcher experience: some metrics give experienced researchers an advantage over early career researchers. It is important not to compare researchers who are at different stages of their career.
  • Incomplete data: the tools used to gather bibliometric data do not cover all research areas or index all publications. The results will vary depending on the tool you use.

Early career researchers may find that Altmetrics are a more appropriate metric to use if they have a smaller body of work and a low citation score. There are a number of techniques to help increase research visibility.