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Measure research impact and quality: Alternative measures

Why look at alternative measures?

Areas like the humanities and social sciences are not well served by bibliometrics as a measure of quality or impact as:
  • Citation databases do not provide an adequate coverage as they favour scientific fields and do not adequately cover books and book chapters.
  • These disciplines do not tend to have a strong citation culture.
  • Quality is demonstrated via peer review, rather than the number of citations.
  • Often impact is sought in non-scholarly environments.

Some areas, for example in the health sciences, may also be interested in determining non-scholarly impact e.g. how the research is being implemented in practice.

Non-scholarly impact

Areas like the humanities and social sciences are not well served by bibliometrics, so require alternative measures. There are many other areas, like health sciences, that are also interested in non-scholarly impact.

Type of impact
  • Social
  • Economic
  • Public policy
  • Practice

How can I identify non-scholarly impact?

The most appropriate places to look will depend on the type of research being undertaken, in what form the research is being disseminated and what type of impact you are looking to measure.

The aim is to identify examples of where your research has been mentioned, discussed or applied, in non-scholarly material. Possible sources include:
  • Government publications, policy documents and government websites
  • Media databases like Factiva or TVNews or websites like The Conversation
  • Patent databases and issued patents
  • TGA approved drugs and treatment guidelines

These measures tend to be more qualitative and subjective; they require more time to collect and collate and can often be difficult to quantify. 


Alternative - often article-level - metrics track web usage to quantify research impact. This can include:
  • Abstract views and downloads
  • Blogs and media coverage
  • Social media e.g. Twitter, Google+
  • Collections e.g. Mendely, Connotea and CiteULike
"Altmetrics expand [the] view of what impact looks like, but also of what’s making the impact. This matters because expressions of scholarship are becoming more diverse."

Research impact beyond metrics