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Research metrics

Learn about both journal-level metrics like impact factor as well as scholar metrics like the h-index.

Applications of Research Metrics

The term research metrics is used here to encompass an array of methods that evaluate the impact of scholarship.  Related terms include bibliometrics and citation analysis.  Research metrics are used in the following situations:

  • Faculty may need to demonstrate the impact of their work when going up for tenure or promotion;
  • Researchers may want to showcase the impact of their research in order to procure grant funding;
  • Librarians may want to analyze the impact of publications to make purchasing decisions;
  • Authors may want to compare the impact of different journals when determining where to submit their manuscripts;
  • Universities may want to promote the impact of their scholars for accreditation and funding.

Metrics may be found on the journal level (i.e., impact factor), researcher level (i.e., h-index), and article level (i.e., altmetrics).

Using Metrics Wisely

A single number - be it impact factor or h-index - doesn't tell the whole story.  Even a cursory look at the literature on research metrics reveals some serious problems:

  • A "high" or "low" number is relative to the discipline and the length of time a researcher has been publishing.
  • Citation analysis, h-index, and other metrics are dependent on the content of the database from which they're calculated (i.e., # of citations in Google Scholar is likely different than # of citations in Web of Science).  These numbers will also be different if calculated manually vs. automatically.
  • Journals have found ways of manipulating impact factor.  Some journals engage in this gaming while others do not.

Here are some ways to ensure you're using metrics responsibly and seeing the whole picture:

  • Individual researchers should be compared to close peers (similar research area, similar time since first publication).
  • Use multiple indicators, qualitative as well as quantitative.  Don't establish a threshold based on a single number that researchers must attain in order to be eligible for tenure, promotion, grants, etc.
  • When choosing a venue for publication, journal impact factor should be considered along with other factors:
    • Is the journal open access?
    • Is its scope appropriate for your research?  
    • Do the board of editors and other authors constitute your peers?  
    • What are its processes for peer-review?  
    • How does it allow you to distribute your supplementary materials, such as data and audiovisual materials?

Kinds of Usage Metrics

Citation Analysis is the basis for journal impact factors and individual h-indices.  It allows a researcher to see who is citing their work, and is also often used to measure researcher and article impact.

Journal Impact is most commonly assessed using impact factor.  Journal impact factor is often used to assess researcher impact, but there are serious concerns with relying on it as a standalone metric.  Other numerical methods of journal assessment include the h5-index and the Eigenfactor.

The H-Index has gained popularity since its formulation in 2005 as a more accurate way to assess researcher impact.

Altmetrics include non-traditional sources of data--such as how many times an article has been downloaded or shared on social media--to assess impact.

If you want to learn how to increase the impact and distribution of your work, see the Increase Visibility tab.


Where can I get more help?

Contact the OSU Libraries Information Desk

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