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Scholarly Communication: Research Impact

What is research impact?

Research impact describes the reach, attention and influence of scholarly research. Impact can be both quantitative and qualitative, and seeks to answer:

  • How many scholars have cited your articles?
  • Who is citing your articles?
  • What outcomes has your research led to, such as protocols and new policies?
  • Who is noticing your research?

Who uses research impact?

Impact metrics are used by tenure and promotion committees, funders, and scholars to determine the the impact of research. Some quantitative metrics, such as the Journal Impact Factor, are used to determine the prestige and quality of a publication.

Terms to Know

Research impact is a complicated landscape.  There are various metrics to determine the impact of your research. The following are frequently used quantitative measurements to determine research impact.

Citation Count - The number of citations accrued since publication. Most often the citation count is applied to single articles.

h-Index - The number of articles (h) published by an author that has received at least (h) citations over a period of time. For example, an h-index of 9 means that nine of the author's articles have received at least 9 citations each. h-index is not skewed by one highly cited paper.

Journal Impact Factor - The number of citations per article during a two year period divided by the number of citable items published by the journal in two years. A journal's Impact Factor can be found in the Journal Citation Reports. Some journals may not have an Impact Factor if they are younger than two years or did not select to have an Impact Factor. Impact Factor does not show the quality of your article, but is often used as a research metric to imply the quality or prestige of a journal publication.

SCImago Journal Rank - the average number of weighted citations received in a year divided by the number of documents published in the previous three years. Citations are weighted depending on the source they come from. The SCImago Journal Rank is based on Scopus data.

Altmetrics - Altmetrics measure the attention research receives. They track attention to non-traditional sources, such as mentions in news reports, references in policy documents, mentions in social media, and Wikipedia citations. Altmetrics scores come from two sources: the Altmetric Attention Score and the PlumX Score. Learn more about altmetrics.

The limitations of metrics

Impact metrics have limitations and do not always reflect quality. A highly cited paper could be cited as an example of bad science. If your primary audience is K-12 educators and your desired outcome is classroom use, then citations won't reflect the true impact of your research. 

Research impact metrics are useful, but no single metric can tell you the whole story. Use a combination of impact metrics and qualitative data to get the full picture of your research impact.