Ten reasons you should put altmetrics on your CV right now

If you don’t include altmetrics on your CV, you’re missing out in a big way.

There are many benefits to scholars and scholarship when altmetrics are embedded in a CV.

Altmetrics can:

  1. provide additional information;
  2. de-emphasize inappropriate metrics;
  3. uncover the impact of just-published work;
  4. legitimize all types of scholarly products;
  5. recognize diverse impact flavors;
  6. reward effective efforts to facilitate reuse;
  7. encourage a focus on public engagement;
  8. facilitate qualitative exploration;
  9. empower publication choice; and
  10. spur innovation in research evaluation.

In this post, we’ll detail why these benefits are important to your career, and also recommend the ways you should–and shouldn’t–include altmetrics in your CV.

1. Altmetrics provide additional information

The most obvious benefit of including altmetrics on a CV is that you’re providing more information than your CV’s readers already have.  Readers can still assess the CV items just as they’ve always done: based on title, journal and author list, and maybe–if they’re motivated–by reading or reviewing the research product itself. Altmetrics have the added benefit of allowing readers to dig into post-publication impact of your work.

2. Altmetrics de-emphasize inappropriate metrics

It’s generally regarded as poor form to evaluate an article based on a journal title or impact factor. Why? Because high journal impact factors vary across fields and an article often receives more or less attention than its journal container suggests.

But what else are readers of a CV to do? Most of us don’t have enough domain expertise to dig into each item and assess its merits based on a careful reading, even if we did have time. We need help, but traditional CVs don’t provide enough information to assess the work on anything but journal title.

Providing article-level citations and altmetrics in a CV gives readers more information, thereby de-emphasizing evaluation based on journal rank.

3. Altmetrics uncover the impact of just-published work

Why not suggest that we include citation counts in CVs, and leave it at that? Why go so far as altmetrics? The reason is that altmetrics have benefits that complement the weaknesses of a citation-based solution.

Timeliness is the most obvious benefits of altmetrics. Citations take years to accrue, which can be a problem for graduate students who are applying for jobs soon after publishing their first papers and for those promotion candidates whose most profound work is published only shortly before review.

Multiple research studies have found that counts of downloads, bookmarks and tweets correlate with citations, yet accrue much more quickly, often in weeks or months rather than years. Using timely metrics allows researchers to showcase the impact of their most recent work.

4. Altmetrics legitimize all types of scholarly products

How can readers of a CV know if your included dataset, software project, or technical report is any good?

You can’t judge its quality and impact based on the reputation of the journal that published it, since datasets and software aren’t published in journals. And even if they were, we wouldn’t want to promote the poor practice of judging the impact of an item by the impact of its container.

How, then, can alternative scholarly products be more than just space-filler on a CV?

The answer is product-level metrics. Like article-level metrics do for journal articles, product-level metrics provide the needed evidence to convince evaluators that a dataset or software package or white paper has made a difference. These types of products often make impacts in ways that aren’t captured by standard attribution mechanisms like citations. Altmetrics are key to communicating the full picture of how a product has influenced a field.

5. Altmetrics recognize diverse impact flavors

The impact of a research paper has a flavor. There are scholarly flavors (a great methods sections bookmarked for later reference or controversial claims that change a field), public flavors (“sexy” research that captures the imagination or data from a paper that’s used in the classroom), and flavors that fall into the area in between (research that informs public policy or a paper that’s widely used in clinical practice).

We don’t yet know how many flavors of impact there are, but it would be a safe bet that scholarship and society need them all. The goal isn’t to compare flavors: one flavor isn’t objectively better than another. They each have to be appreciated on their own merits for the needs they meet.

To appreciate the impact flavor of items on a CV, we need to be able to tell the flavors apart. (Citations alone can’t fully inform what kind of difference a research paper has made on the world. They are important, but not enough.) This is where altmetrics come in. By analyzing patterns in what people are reading, bookmarking, sharing, discussing and citing online we can start to figure out what kind – what flavor – of impact a research output is making.

More research is needed to understand the flavor palette, how to classify impact flavor and what it means. In the meantime, exposing raw information about downloads, shares, bookmarks and the like starts to give a peek into impact flavor beyond just citations.

6. Altmetrics reward efforts to facilitate reuse

Reusing research – for replication, follow-up studies and entirely new purposes – reduces waste and spurs innovation. But it does take a bit of work to make your research reusable, and that work should be recognized using altmetrics.

There are a number of ways authors can make their research easier to reuse. They can make article text available for free with broad reuse rights. They can choose to publish in places with liberal text-mining policies, that invest in disseminating machine-friendly versions of articles and figures.

Authors can write detailed descriptions of their methods, materials, datasets and software and make them openly available for reuse. They can even go further, experimenting with executable papers, versioned papers, open peer review, semantic markup and so on.

When these additional steps result in increased reuse, it will likely be reflected in downloads, bookmarks, discussions and possibly citations. Including altmetrics in CVs will reward investigators who have invested their time to make their research reusable, and will encourage others to do so in the future.

7. Altmetrics can encourage a focus on public engagement

The research community, as well as society as a whole, benefits when research results are discussed outside the Ivory Tower. Engaging the public is essential for future funding, recruitment and accountability.

Today, however, researchers have little incentive to engage in outreach or make their research accessible to the public. By highlighting evidence of public engagement like tweets, blog posts and mainstream media coverage, altmetrics on a CV can reward researchers who choose to invest in public engagement activities.

8. Altmetrics facilitate qualitative exploration

Including altmetrics in a CV isn’t all about the numbers! Just as we hope many people who skim our CVs will stop to read our papers and explore our software packages, so too we can hope that interested parties will click through to explore the details of altmetrics engagement for themselves.

Who is discussing an article? What are they saying? Who has bookmarked a dataset? What are they using it for? As we discuss at the end of this post, including provenance information is crucial for trustworthy altmetrics. It also provides great information that helps CV readers move beyond the numbers and jump into qualitative exploration of impact.

9. Altmetrics empower publication choice

Publishing in a new or innovative journal can be risky. Many authors are hesitant to publish their best work somewhere new or with a relatively-low impact factor. Altmetrics can remedy this by highlighting work based on its post-publication impact, rather than the title of the journal it was published in. Authors will be empowered to choose publication venues they feel are most appropriate, leveling the playing field for what might otherwise be considered risky choices.

Successful publishing innovators will also benefit. New journals won’t have to wait two years to get an impact factor before they can compete. Publishing venues that increase access and reuse will be particularly attractive. This change will spur innovation and support the many publishing options that have recently debuted, such as eLife, PeerJ, F1000 Research and others.

10. Altmetrics spur innovation in research evaluation

Finally, including altmetrics on CVs will engage researchers directly in research evaluation. Researchers are evaluated all the time, but often behind closed doors, using data and tools they don’t have access to. Encouraging researchers to tell their own impact stories on their CVs, using broad sources of data, will help spur a much-needed conversation about how research evaluation is done and should be done in the future.

OK, so how can you do it right?

There can be risks to including altmetrics data on a CV, particularly if the data is presented or interpreted without due care or common sense.

Altmetrics data should be presented in a way that is accurate, auditable and meaningful:

  • Accurate data is up-to-date, well-described and has been filtered to remove attempts at deceitful gaming
  • Auditable data implies completely open and transparent calculation formulas for aggregation, navigable links to original sources and access by anyone without a subscription.
  • Meaningful data needs context and reference. Categorizing online activity into an engagement framework helps readers understand the metrics without becoming overwhelmed. Reference is also crucial. How many tweets is a lot? What percentage of papers are cited in Wikipedia? Representing raw counts as statistically rigorous percentiles, localized to domain or type of product, makes it easy to interpret the data responsibly.

Assuming these presentation requirements are met, how should the data be interpreted? We strongly recommend that altmetrics be considered not as a replacement for careful expert evaluation but as a supplement. Because they are still in their infancy, we should view altmetrics as way to ground subjective assessment in real data; a way to start conversations, not end them.

Given this approach, at least three varieties of interpretation are appropriate: signaling, highlighting and discovery. A CV with altmetrics clearly signals that a scholar is abreast of innovations in scholarly communication and serious about communicating the impact of scholarship in meaningful ways. Altmetrics can also be used to highlight research products that might otherwise go unnoticed: a highly downloaded dataset or a track record of F1000-reviewed papers suggests work worthy of a second look. Finally, as we described above, auditable altmetrics data can be used by evaluators as a jumping off point for discovery about who is interested in the research, what they are doing with it, and how they are using it.

How to Get Started

How can you add altmetrics to your own CV or, if you are a librarian, empower scholars to add altmetrics to theirs?

Start by experimenting with altmetrics for yourself. Play with the tools, explore and suggest improvements. Librarians can also spread the word on their campuses and beyond through writing, teaching and outreach. Finally, if you’re in a position to hire, promote, or review grant applications, explicitly welcome diverse evidence of impact when you solicit CVs.

What are your thoughts on using altmetrics on a CV? Would you welcome them as a reviewer, or choose to ignore them? Tell us in the comments section below.

This post has been adapted from “The Power of Altmetrics on a CV,” which appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of ASIS&T Bulletin.

10 thoughts on “Ten reasons you should put altmetrics on your CV right now

  1. In applications for jobs, I would only include it if I was sure that people at the department appreciate altmetrics. I think there is huge variation across disciplines and departments regarding the perception of altmetrics. Including altmetrics when the cv is read by people who put emphasis on the traditional impact factor might do more harm than good. But on a lower level, one might include a link to websites such as Impact Story.

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