Owning Your Impact


“Measure a thousand times, cut once” by Sonny Abesamis is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Scholars are routinely called upon to demonstrate the impact of their research, whether for tenure and promotion, or for grant and fellowship applications. Traditionally, citation counts and journal impact factors were used to determine research impact. Today, there is widespread acknowledgement that both of these metrics are seriously flawed. One recent study, for example, showed that men cite their own papers 56% more than women (which means some men may have inflated citation counts). Another study pointed out that publishing in a journal with a high impact factor does not necessarily mean that your own work will be highly cited. Still, it’s clear that traditional metrics are not going away. Just last December, the publisher Elsevier launched their own journal impact calculator, CiteScore.

Metrics can cause significant anxiety among scholars. While such anxiety is understandable (no one wants to be reduced to a number), the more proactive a scholar is when it comes to documenting their impact, the better off they will be. Scholars should learn to take control of their metrics, and use them to craft their own story about their research. There are four main ways to do this:

First, build and maintain your online presence. Make sure your faculty profile on your department page is up to date. Register for an ORCID iD and use it. Create profiles on various academic social networks, and on Google Scholar. Consider having your own website. Join Twitter and connect with colleagues around the world.

Second, make as much of your work openly available as you can. People can’t cite or talk about your work if they can’t read it. Publish your research in open access journals, or post a preprint or postprint to a disciplinary repository. Can’t do either of these things? Figure out alternative ways of sharing your scholarship. Blog or tweet about research in progress. Use Figshare or Slideshare to call attention to unpublished scholarly output. Or, ask your publisher if you can share a small part of your monograph (such as the table of contents) on an academic social networking site (such as Academia.edu or ResearchGate).

Third, keep track of your citations. Regularly check your citations on Web of Science, Scopus, and Google Scholar. But be skeptical of the results, particularly if you are a humanities scholar. Edited collections, for example, are often not indexed. New journals may also not be indexed. Ultimately, your best bet is to do your own research on who is citing you by searching the appropriate databases for your field (such as JSTOR, Proquest, or Google Books). Once you have a list of all your citations, dig a little deeper. Quantity matters, but so too does quality. If you can show that you are being cited by leaders in your field, or by scholars from outside your discipline, you can make a stronger case for your impact.

Fourth, pay attention to altmetrics. Altmetrics can provide you with more details about your research impact than citation counts alone. Most sharing platforms make it easy for you to see how many people are viewing or downloading your scholarship (disciplinary repositories usually offer scholars similar analytics). Sign up for ImpactStory to help keep track of what people are saying about your work on social media. Try searching the Open Syllabus Explorer to see the frequency with which your book or article is taught and what related work is taught alongside it. Here again, however, it’s important to remember that existing tools can only tell you so much. You must do additional research to really find out all the ways in which your work is being used.

For more information on enhancing your impact, check out the Library’s guide to the topic.

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