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Altmetrics are based on the number of times an article is shared, downloaded or mentioned on social media, blogs or newspapers.

Altmetrics can be considered alongside traditional bibliometric measures, such as citation counts, h-index or journal impact factor, to give a wider picture of how a piece of research is being read and discussed. They give a more immediate indication of how an article is received than citations in scholarly publications.

The Altmetric doughnut

Altmetric developed the "doughnut" symbol as a way of visualising the reach and impact of an article. It can be attached to an article, dataset or other research object online. The score in the centre of the donut is based on:

  • how many people share or mention the article
  • where they mention it (for example, newspapers give a higher score than tweets)
  • who is talking about it (the media, the public or other researchers).

The colours reflect the mix of sources, which might include Facebook, Twitter, news outlets, government policy documents, or blogs (among others).

Find out how the score is calculated for the doughnut in this article: Pirmohamed, M. et al. 2004. Adverse drug reactions as cause of admission to hospital: prospective analysis of 18,820 patients. British Medical Journal. 329(7456), pp.15-19 (retrieved 19/12/2014)

Due to the way it collects data, the Altmetric doughnut tool works best with articles published after July 2011, and may underestimate scores for older articles.

How can I find altmetric data?

  • You can install a free browser bookmarklet from Altmetric which will display any available altmetrics for articles you read online.
  • Some Scopus database records include the altmetric donut. It will only appear in the sidebar when there is data available for the article record that you're currently viewing.
  • Figshare is an online repository for research outputs, including posters, slideshows and datasets. It allows you to see how many views and shares a research output has had, and will soon start to display how many citations items receive as well.
  • All articles published in PLoS (Public Library of Science) journals display metrics showing how many times they have been viewed, cited, saved or discussed. Browse the most popular PLoS ONE articles.
  • PLoS Impact Explorer is a website hosted by Altmetric which shows the most talked-about PLoS articles of the moment. You can choose to look at all PLoS articles or only those from a specific PLoS journal.
  • You can create a personal profile on ImpactStory and link it to your research outputs online. It will then display appropriate impact metrics for each output, which might include tweets, Facebook posts, figshare downloads, Mendeley readers, PubMed citations or Slideshare views. ImpactStory also allows you to see an overview of the impact of all your research outputs combined.
  • Academia.edu allows you to see "analytics" for any papers you have written which are linked to your personal profile. You can find out what search terms people are using to get to your work, and which countries your readers are located in.

What are the limitations of altmetrics?

  • Just like with traditional bibliometrics, a high number of shares or social media mentions doesn't mean that an article is of high quality. An article may be mentioned on social media because it contains something amusing or unusual, without being highly regarded within the scientific community.
  • Social media can be easily manipulated and "likes" or mentions can be paid for or generated, so the numbers might not reflect the actual level of public interest in a piece of work.
  • Different altmetric tools look at different sources, so an article may appear to be very popular according to one tool, but less popular according to another.