Does increasing the Altmetric score increase citations for primary care research papers?

Dr Alex Burrell



By Dr Alex Burrell, NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow in General Practice, Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol

Dr Alex Burrell has led a study exploring the relationship between Altmetric scores and citations in primary care research journals as part of his Editorial Fellowship at the British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) and BJGP Open.

The number of times a research article is cited has traditionally been used to assess its impact and quality. Altmetric score is an alternative measure of article impact which assesses the broader societal impact of articles and includes social media, blogs, and news mentions.

Number of citations, and other measures which are based on citation count, are still most often used by researchers and universities, and are tied to financial rewards. However, academic journals and authors increasingly use parts of the Altmetric score to share and promote research.

If Altmetric score is associated with citations, then it would make sense for authors, institutions and journals to try to improve this for their articles. There is no existing research on the relationship between Altmetric scores and citations in primary care research, so we aimed to explore this.

What did we find?

We looked at 150 primary care research articles and examined the number of citations they had, their Altmetric scores, and other factors including the type of paper and the journal they were published in.

We found, using a number of different statistical tests, that there was a relationship between an article’s Altmetric score and the number of times it was cited.

Increasing an article’s Altmetric score by 10% was associated with a 1.68% increase in citations. Articles which were reviews had higher citations than primary research, and as publishing journal impact factor increased so did citations.

What does this mean?

Higher Altmetric scores were associated with more citations. This suggests it is worth primary care researchers, academic institutions and journals spending time and allocating resources to increase article Almtetric scores.

They could do this by sharing articles on Twitter/X, writing blog posts, or sharing their findings with news organisations. This may increase the number of times their research is cited as well as improving the wider public impact of their work.

Read the paper: Exploring the relationship between traditional bibliometrics and Altmetric scores in the primary care literature. Learned Publishing. Burrell, A., Butler, D., Ukoumunne, O.C. and Dambha-Miller, H. Learned Publishing (2023).

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