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September 15, 2016

Library insider: Telling the story of your research



Welcome to the inaugural “Library Insider” column. Here, experts from Pitt’s libraries will discuss issues impacting the teaching and research endeavors of Pitt faculty and staff, highlighting ways we can partner with you to support your efforts, maximize your impact and save you time.

As a researcher, you’re probably familiar with the h-index, which is a measure of the impact of your research based primarily on the number of times your papers have been cited. While it continues to be a very important metric, it tells only part of the story of the impact of your research, and it’s a lagging index, since amassing citations to your papers can take years. This index exists in a context where activities aimed at promoting your research are increasingly important. In addition, individual researchers and their universities are more and more interested in being able to tell stories around the research happening in their labs and on their campuses, stories that go beyond stating that so and so is a star researcher, and include things such as demonstrating real-world conversations and impacts.

Another factor at play is that while the journal article remains the pre-eminent research artifact, the data behind the research, presentations about the research and online conversations about it increasingly are becoming prominent.

For example, many funders require that the data behind the article be made available along with the article itself, and journals increasingly are publishing data along with the article. So while there are well used and well regarded metrics for journal articles, those metrics really aren’t applicable to these additional outputs. Enter alternative metrics, often called altmetrics.

Altmetrics let us measure and monitor the reach and impact of scholarship and research through online interactions. Altmetrics aren’t meant to replace traditional metrics like the h-index, but rather are meant to complement them to help paint a fuller picture.


Altmetrics can answer questions such as:

• How many times was my article or presentation downloaded?

• Who is reading my work (on Mendeley, bookmarking sites, etc.)?

• Was it covered by any news agencies?

• Are other researchers commenting on it?

• How many times was it shared (on Facebook, Twitter, etc.)?

• Which countries are looking at my research?

Altmetrics can answer these questions both for journal articles and for the other research outputs, making them a valuable tool in telling a more compelling story around a particular piece of research.


What can altmetrics do for you? They can:

• Show the impact of your work beyond traditional journal-level metrics. You can see how different audiences, be they fellow researchers, policymakers or high school students, are engaging with your research.

• Show your department, university, funders and others the reach of your research.

• Manage your reputation by seeing what’s being said online about your work.

• Compare your work to the work of others at your institution or worldwide.

How do altmetrics work? Altmetric tools aggregate and analyze the “data exhaust” around a particular piece of research. The particular artifact involved informs to an extent what’s tracked but generally these fall into the categories of usage, captures, mentions, social media and citations. What belongs in each of these categories?

—Usage: clicks, downloads, views, library holdings, video plays.

—Captures: bookmarks, code forks, favorites, readers, watchers.

—Mentions: blog posts, comments, reviews, Wikipedia links.

—Social media: +1s, likes, shares, tweets.

—Citations: citation indexes, patent citations, clinical citations.

In short, they help to capture the attention that a piece of research is receiving and they do so in real or close to real time.


Pitt’s librarians have expertise in both traditional metrics and altmetrics. Using these tools, we can work with you to:
• Compile metrics for your publications and other research outputs.

• Perform article citation analysis.

• Identify appropriate baselines for comparisons.

• Learn your h-index.

• Find the impact of journals.

• Discover collaborators for your next project.

• Follow the newest research trends in your field.

• Track the social impact of your research.

There are many tools, free and subscription, that measure both traditional and alternative metrics around research. Some of the more popular altmetric tools include Impactstory, and Plum X. The University is an institutional subscriber to Plum X, meaning that tool is free to any member of the Pitt community.

To learn more, check out the altmetrics guides by the University Library System ( and the Health Sciences Library System (

Pitt librarians are ready, willing and able to help you tell the story of the impact of your research.

Jeff Wisniewski is web services and communications librarian for the University Library System.

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