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Research Visibility: Article-Level Metrics & Altmetrics

Article-level metrics aim to measure the impact of or attention received by a single article or group of articles. These can include:

  1. Citations
  2. Usage (views and downloads)
  3. Altmetrics (measures of attention on the social web)

Benefits of Article-Level Metrics

  • While citations can provide insight into how an article is used in academia, article-level metrics like usage and altmetrics can provide help to measure the attention research receives outside of academia (by the general public, policy makers, etc.).
  • Since usage counts and altmetrics accrue more quickly than citations, they can help identify early attention surrounding scholarly work.

Limitations of Article-Level Metrics

  • Article-level metrics alone provide no information about context. For example, a retracted paper may receive a considerable amount of attention.
  • Article-level metrics can be manipulated (e.g. through gratuitous self-citation, or bots tweeting repeatedly about a particular article, etc.).
  • Definitions of altmetric indicators are not standardized (though this may begin to change; in 2016, NISO released recommendations in the document NISO RP-25-2016 Outputs of the Alternative Assessment Metrics Project - pdf)
  • Altmetric data typically requires a persistent digital identifier (such as a DOI OR PubMed ID) in order for online mentions of an article to be tracked; not all publications have such identifiers.

Citation Counts

Citation counts refer to the number of times that a document has been cited since it was published.


Article X has received 20 citations (Data source: Scopus).


  • Citation counts can include self-citations (in which an author cites his/her/their own previous work). Self-citations are often warranted, but they can be used to inflate citation counts. If self-citations are included in a citation count, this should be noted.
  • Citations rates vary between disciplines. For example, a physics paper may accumulate citations more quickly than a linguistics paper. For this reason, citation metrics are sometimes normalized to a particular field to reflect the expected rate of citation within a discipline.
  • Citations are contextual. The number of citations a publication receives is not indicative of its quality, nor is it indicative of the context of those citations (i.e. whether the citations were made in a positive or negative context).
  • Citation counts vary by source. A citation count from Scopus includes citations to documents indexed in Scopus by documents indexed in Scopus. The same is true for Web of Science or Google Scholar. The data source should be reported, and comparisons should use data from the same source for the same time period.

Find Citation Counts:

Citation counts are available from:

Citation counts may be reported for a document (total citations received by a particular article by other publications indexed in that database) or for an individual (total citations received by an author for their body of work, as indexed in and cited in that database).

Article Usage

Article usage (views and downloads) demonstrate online interest in an article.

Find Article Usage Metrics:

These types of article-level metrics are typically available from the publisher's site on the article webpage, and also from some databases.

PLOS was a leader in providing this data, and provides an online site, PLOS ALM Reports, through which you can search and view article-level metrics for any set of PLOS articles as well as summarize and visualize the data results. A screenshot from a PLOS ALM report is provided below.

Screenshot of PLOS article-level metrics including Views, Saves, Discussions, Citations.


Altmetrics is a term used to describe "alternative metrics," that is, metrics that are outside the scope of traditional (citation-based) bibliometrics. Altmetrics quantify the attention scholarly work receives online in forums other than scholarly journals. 

Examples of altmetrics include:

  • The number of shares on a social website (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Mendeley, etc.)
  • Media coverage of scholarly research
  • Citations or mentions in grey literature (unpublished or informally published documents, such as policy briefs)

Sources of Altmetrics

You may be familiar with the colourful "Almetric donut" or the "Plum Print", which are icons associated with altmetric data provided by Altmetric and Plum Analytics respectively. These companies are the two main providers of altmetric data.

Altmetric DonutAltmetric

  • Download the free Altmetric bookmarklet to view altmetrics for articles with a DOI
  • Ask a librarian for a report on altmetrics related to your research
  • Memorial Libraries does not have an institutional subscription to Altmetric

Plum Analytics iconPlumAnalytics

  • Plum Analytics (owned by Elsevier) are visible in Scopus and in Ebsco databases
  • Memorial Libraries does not have an institutional subscription to Plum Analytics