Thing 3: Traditional Metrics

A range of bibliometric databases have been developed to measure attention to research via citations. Thing 3 will introduce you to some widely recognised research metrics and bibliometric databases. It will cover how metrics are calculated, the tools that are used to find them, and the limitations of specific metrics. 

Getting Started  

There are four major databases that are commonly used to provide citation metrics: Web of Science, Scopus, Dimensions (free version available), and Google Scholar (free).  

Web of Science is a subscription abstract and citation database providing access to multidisciplinary and regional citation indexes; specialist subject indexes; a patent family index; and an index to scientific data sets.  

Scopus is the largest subscription abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature; scientific journals, books, and conference proceedings. Scopus features tools to track, analyse and visualise research.  

Dimensions is an abstract and citation database that has both free and institutional subscription versions available. One of the strengths of Dimensions is the inclusion of clinical trial and funding data as well as publication outputs.  

Google Scholar is free to access but the search and data collection information is proprietary information that Google does not share. There is much discussion about the quality of the citation data in Google Scholar, but it does provide citation information for researchers in disciplines that are not well represented in some of the subscription citation databases. 

For a guide on how to use Google Scholar Citations, read Tulsa Community College’s LibGuide “Google Scholar: an introduction to Google Scholar: citations“.

For a more nuanced understanding of Google Scholar, read these two blog posts: 

Find out which of the databases you have access to and carry out the following exercise using at least one of them.  


  • Find the h-index for a researcher. 
  • Find all of the publications indexed in your chosen tool for a researcher. 
  • What are the different types of research publication or output your chosen researcher has produced? 
  • What is your researcher’s publishing pattern over time? 

Learn More   

Choose to explore either “Metrics in different disciplines” or “Journal-level metrics” in more detail. 

Metrics in different disciplines 

Citation patterns for individuals vary across research disciplines. Some areas, such as medicine, may generate many citations quickly, while humanities publications may take much longer to gather citations. It is essential to understand the context of citations within a field. This is where metrics that take this into account can be valuable. Examples are the Source Normalised Impact per Paper (SNIP) at journal level or Field Weighted Citation Index (FWCI) at researcher or article level. 

Exercise: Compare the metrics for two researchers of similar experience (e.g. both Professors, both lecturers) from different disciplines in your institution in your chosen database (i.e. Scopus etc.). How do their metrics differ? 

Watch ”Bibliometrics for discipline and university“, in which Professor Ray O’Neill, Vice President for Research at the National University of Ireland, talks about the importance of comparing research metrics within similar disciplines. 

Journal-level metrics 

Journal-level metrics measure the impact, reach, or prestige of a journal. Journal-level metrics are designed to measure the aggregate impact of a publication as a whole and should not be used as proxy metrics for authors who publish in a particular journal. 

Watch “Publishing and journal rankings” from the University of Technology Sydney Library that covers the basics of journal publishing metrics including Journal Citation Reports, SciMago, and Google Scholar.  

Read the discussion of metrics for journal editors from Taylor & Francis that introduces some key limitations of the impact factor and h-index and provides a different perspective to the metrics. 

Consider: What services are you currently offering to your researchers regarding traditional metrics and how they can be used to describe the impact of their work? 

Challenge M

Researchers can create reports using the metrics in bibliometric databases (i.e. Scopus, Web of Science, Dimensions, Google Scholar). These reports can be helpful for researchers who are applying for grants or promotion. Traditional metrics are also commonly used as part of research assessments that compare institutions, academics, or departments. This is called benchmarking, and is discussed in more detail in Thing 8: Benchmarking.  

Read Curtin University’s instructions on how to create reports in Scopus and Web of Science:   

Learn about Publish or Perish, a free software program that retrieves and analyses academic citations. 

Exercise: Test out Scopus, Dimensions or Web of Science by selecting a researcher from your institution and comparing the citation metrics with what you find using Publish or Perish. NB to use Publish or Perish you will need to download and install the programme on your computer.  

Consider: How are metrics currently being used for assessment of researchers at your institution and in the external bodies your institutions work with (funders, philanthropists, government agencies etc.)? 

Finally, consider joining the LIS Bibliometrics Forum. It is an active forum of practitioners, administrators, academics, and suppliers who answer queries and develop practitioner focused events.