How to reach a wider audience for your research

Copyright: Fredrik Naumann / Panos
Copyright: Fredrik Naumann / Panos

By – Juan Pablo Alperin – Alessandra Bordini – SciDev.Net

In today’s age of knowledge abundance, the scholarly community is turning its attention to the use of social media channels and other online platforms. Scholars have been increasingly integrating these tools into their everyday work, creating enormous potential to capture the digital traces of their research.

Not surprisingly, then, in recent years academics have shown a growing interest in non-traditional ways of evaluating their scholarly ‘impact’. These altmetrics, short for alternative metrics, allow researchers to gauge the impact and reach of their research in the social web beyond traditional citation counting.

While much of the conversation around altmetrics has become about alternative measures for research ‘impact’, researchers (especially those from developing countries) would do well to focus on using altmetrics to take advantage of what social media and online platforms have to offer: the opportunity to reach, analyse and engage with the social and public dimensions of scholarly work.

Here we offer practical advice on how to make the most of the opportunities provided by altmetrics. Much of this advice overlaps with other tips on how to measure your research impact — but only because, to track and connect with your audience, it must be able to find you, and you must be able to find it.

Publish in open access journals Publish your research in open access (OA) journals, thus making it immediately available to anyone with an internet connection, and removing financial barriers. For example, in Latin America as much as 25 per cent of OA journal downloads come from outside of universities.
Self-archive your work Put as many articles as possible in institutional or subject-specific repositories. This ensures that your work is openly accessible, even if a journal charges for access.

Most publishers allow self-archiving by default. Check the SHERPA/RoMEO database of journal policies if you are unsure.
Make use of preprints Post preprints in places such as arXiv, bioRxiv, peerJ PrePrints, Figshare, Zenodo, The Winnower or in any institutional or subject-specific repositories. This will enable you to circulate your ideas more quickly, give you more visibility, and perhaps translate into more citations.

Publish all your outputs Put all your research outputs in places like Slideshare, for slides; Data Dryad, for data; GitHub, for code; The Winnower, for blogs and proposals; or multi-purpose services, such as Figshare or Zenodo, for a range of outputs.

Curate your metadata Fill in as much information as possible when submitting or uploading your data, including a descriptive title, abstract, and keywords of interest to your target audience. This makes your work discoverable to machines as well as humans.

Identify who your work is reaching, and the places where it is being shared, discussed and cited. This gives you a clearer sense of your audience, enabling you to tell richer stories to engage them.
Make use of (persistent) identifiers All online content is assigned at least one digital identifier that allows it to be easily located. This type of metadata is especially important for tracking the performance and reach of scholarly output. Prominent examples of such digital identifiers include DOIs (Digital Object Identifiers), PubMed IDs, arXiv IDs and URLs.

Persistent identifiers such as DOIs are particularly useful for measuring online activity because they are designed to remain pointing to a research object even if it “moves” to another place on the web (say, if a journal changes publishers or switches online platform).

Keep a record of all your outputs Keep track of all the identifiers where your work can be found. Not everything you publish will have a persistent identifier and your work may end up in multiple locations, so tracking only permanent identifiers will miss some metrics. Keep a private record of everything (e.g. in a spreadsheet) that you can refer back to in the future.

Set up profiles that track your reach for you Set up profiles to nurture your online identity and track your work. Both ImpactStory and Google Scholar are handy. Google Scholar will help you find citations to your work on the scholarly web, and ImpactStory will uncover mentions of your work on the social web.

Revisit your work regularly Use your profiles, and list of identifiers and URLs, to revisit your work periodically. Many publishers now display article-level metrics (including downloads, citations and altmetrics) on a published article’s page. If not, you can often use the Altmetric Bookmarklet to see metrics.

Regularly check comments sections for conversations about your work.
Set up alerts to notify you of mentions Automate the process of checking for updates. Altmetric.com, for example, will allow you to set up alerts so you receive an email whenever articles of interest are mentioned in the places they track.

For those URLs not tracked by altmetrics providers, you can set up Google Alerts (make your name, article title and URL the search terms). Google Scholar Alerts inform you whenever your articles are cited.
Search Twitter following publication Search for the URLs associated with your work on Twitter. It’s the social media platform with the most scholarly activity.

Concentrate your searches in the first few weeks after publication (at least once a week, since Twitter searches only the past few days).
Note who mentions your work and where This will give you a glimpse of how your work is being interpreted and used by both academics and the public.

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