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Measuring Journal Impact in the Digital Age

important_social_media_measurementArticle Level Metrics (ALMs) are a new approach to quantifying the reach and impact of published research. Historically, impact has been measured at the journal level. A journal’s average number of citations to recent articles (i.e., its impact factor) has for years served as a proxy for that publication’s importance. Articles published in highly cited journals were viewed as impactful by association. As electronic dissemination of scholarly content surpassed print, it became easier to disaggregate an individual article’s impact from the publication in which it appeared. It also became possible to track different markers of an article’s reach, beyond just citations. ALMs seek to incorporate new data sources (sometimes referred to as “altmetrics”) along with traditional measures to present a riche r picture of how an individual article is being discussed, shared, and used.

Article Level Metrics are not simply an alternative way to measure impact. Rather, as this primer will explain, ALMs are a toolkit of heterogeneous data points that can be mixed and matched as circumstances warrant. These data points enhance our ability to measure a wide vari ety of way s in which research may be reaching and affecting its audience, both within and beyond the scholarly community.

Before the explosion of electronic content dissemination, citation counts were the easiest way to quantify an article’s consequence. Tracking how many times a paper was sent from one peer to another, or how many times it was discussed at a conference, was simply not possible. So, too, was it difficult to measure how quickly a new research concept or theory took hold within the scientific community. Today, however, Article Level Metrics open the door to measures of both the immediacy and the socialization of an article. These are critical components of impact that have not previously been captured.

The dissemination of research is more immediate and occurs across more channels than ever before. Article Level Metrics are an attempt to better reflect an article’s impact under these new circumstances. ALMs can incorporate shorter term data points such as news coverage, blog posts, tweets, and Facebook likes. These are “shorter term” metrics insofar as they tend to fade quickly as the buzz around an article wanes. ALMs don’t simply focus on these in the moment mentions , however. They can also incorporate longer term markers such as download statistics and article comments. Taken collectively, these data points can present a much fuller perspective of an article’s impact over time.

Finally, it is important to distinguish between two similar but not synonymous terms – Article Level Metrics (ALMs) and altmetrics. ALMs are an attempt to measure impact at the article level. In doing so, ALMs draw from a variety of different data sources, some traditional (e.g., times cited) and some new (e.g., tweets). The attempt to incorporate new data sources to measure the impact of something, whether that something is an article or a journal or an individual scholar, is what defines altmetrics. Altmetrics are about the data sources, not the level of aggregation. ALMs are about the incorporation of altmetrics and traditional data points to define impact at the article level.

Click here to read more from this April 2013 SPARC paper by Greg Tananbaum.

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