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Research Impact: Background

The what, the why, some considerations

What is research impact?

Research impact is the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy. Impact embraces all the extremely diverse ways in which research-related knowledge and skills benefit individual, organisations and nations...
[Research Councils UK]

Why is research impact important?

There are several reasons to measure your research impact:

  • Support applications for tenure or promotion
  • Justify requests for grants and other funding
  • Quantify, and determine how their research is being used
  • Identify other researchers or institutions that are using their work
  • Identify other researchers and/or potential collaborators in their field.



  • Each measure and tool has advantages and disadvantages
  • Citations take time to accrue
  • Citation comparisons are only meaningful if comparing similar things -- researchers in the same field of research at similar career stages
  • The raw count of citations and analyses depend on database content:
    • No database lists all publications. Even the 3 main sources (Web of Science, Scopus and Google Scholar) vary substantially in content.
    • Journals are the predominant publication type in databases. Inclusion of other publications e.g. books, book chapters, conference papers and theses is improving.
    • Journal coverage in Scopus is more comprehensive than Web of Science for the Humanities and Social Sciences.
    • In Scopus, citation data only extends back to 1996 for all disciplines, so will undervalue impact of long-standing researchers.
  • Bibliometrics are best suited to the Health and Physical Science disciplines because these disciplines are dominated by international, peer-reviewed journals published in English.
  • Bibliometrics are less suited to Social Sciences and Humanities research. Researchers in these fields often publish in books and conference proceedings and thus less likely to be included by the major sources. Any 'cited by' numbers in these disciplines are also likely to be lower because readership is more limited, there are fewer researchers in these disciplines, research often has a local focus and may be published in a local (non-English) language.



Bibliometrics are the use of quantiative tools to study publications and other written materials

Citation metrics focus on the statistical patterns and measurements of citations

Citation analysis can be used as a quantifiable measure of academic output and research impact, which can help inform decisions on publication, promotion, and tenure

Altmetrics is the creation and study of new metrics based on the Social Web for analyzing, and informing scholarship

Further reading