(Open Access Week) Telling the story of your research

Publishing research open access offers numerous potential benefits for researchers, for the University, and also for wider society. It opens up research outputs and makes them accessible to anyone anywhere with an internet connection. By opening up research in this way it could be argued that it is more important than ever that we try to understand the impact and reach of papers beyond citation counts limited to just academic and other research-specific publications.

We do find ourselves faced with the challenge of how to effectively communicate the benefits of publishing open access – beyond general statements such as those included in the diagram below.

Open Access Impacts: CC-BY licence, Danny Kingsley & Sarah Brown
Impacts of Open Access: CC-BY licence, Danny Kingsley & Sarah Brown

To look at the world beyond academic citations we can investigate tools such as Altmetric.com. This offers a way to monitor online attention and conversations surrounding a particular piece of research. It takes into account mentions in public policy documents and references in Wikipedia, the mainstream news, social networks, blogs and more.

Let’s look at a 2018 paper by Stephen Gorard and Nadia Siddiqui:

Gorard, S. & Siddiqui, N. (2018) ‘Grammar Schools in England: a new analysis of social integration and academic outcomes’ British Journal of Sociology of Education 39(7) DOI:10.1080/01425692.2018.1443432

This paper was published gold open access with a CC BY licence, Altmetric_GorardSiddiqui_001 meaning that it is available for anyone with an internet connection to not only read but to also re-use.

It has an impressive Altmetric Score and appears to have grabbed the attention of a wide variety of people.

[Ed. We’ve been looking at Altmetric data for Durham authored publications recently, and this score puts this article firmly within the top 30 of all Durham authored publications.

Altmetrics give a measure of ‘attention’ – how and where a scholarly publication has been shared and discussed. Read more about altmetrics on our web pages.]

Altmetric does attempt to define the “types” of people who are tweeting about a particular paper and gives the categories of “members of the public”, “scientists”, “science communicators”, and “practitioners”. It states that this is done based on people’s posting history and profile information:

To compile a table of twitter demographics, we look at keywords in profile descriptions, the types of journals that users link to, and follower lists to assign each profile a category:
  • Member of the public – somebody who doesn’t link to scholarly literature and doesn’t otherwise fit any of the categories below
  • Researcher – somebody who is familiar with the literature
  • Practitioner – a clinician, or researcher who is working in clinical science
  • Science communicator – somebody who links frequently to scientific articles from a variety of different journals / publishers


For this particular paper the statistics breakdown claims that 80% of those tweeting about the paper are “members of the public”. If this is correct then this could help to demonstrate the broad appeal of the research and the attention that it has received beyond academia. You are able to see who has tweeted about the research, when they tweeted, and read the first few lines of their tweet.

A quick scan through a selection of those who have tweeted about this research shows that amongst them there are academics, researchers, policy makers, teachers, authors, librarians. It may be of interest, therefore, to look beyond the statistics provided and analyse the data provided in more detail.

[Ed. – at Durham University we don’t have Altmetric Explorer at present, which may allow authors to do further analysis of who is sharing and using their publications and how, but it is possible to use other tools or Twitter APIs to search for, extract and then analyse this data in more detail. See our web pages on Twitter for further information.]

The authors themselves also promoted their research on Twitter and these tweets were retweeted multiple times, showing the potential benefits of researcher ‘s both engaging with social media, and receiving support where needed as to the best means of harnessing this as a dissemination tool.

[Ed. Durham University’s Marketing and Communications Hub offer some guidance via their social media toolkit, and the Library offers some further tips and guidance on their Researcher Support pages]

Altmetric provides some information on where in the world the attention surrounding a particular paper is coming from.

Altmetric Twitter data: Geographical breakdown
Altmetric Twitter data: Geographical breakdown

Furthermore, this research was mentioned during 2018 and 2019 by multiple national and local media outlets. Looking into this data further could also help to show that this research had wide-reaching appeal. These articles include an opinion piece from The Guardian newspaper which cites other research on grammar school performance and this paper, referring to the “exhaustive analysis of pupil data”. There are also articles in the Northern Echo and the ITV News, reporting solely on the paper by Stephen Gorard and Nadia Saddiqui. As with the Twitter information, it is useful to have this data gathered together by the tool for further analysis, or just to let you know people are accessing and sharing your research in ways not visible via a citation in a scholarly journal!

[Ed. You can access a range of newspaper resources via our web pages, and we’ve covered some of the latest additions to our digital newspaper archival collections for staff and students at Durham here.]

No metrics will ever define the full impact but you may find it useful to investigate the variety of tools that exist, such as Altmetric, to help to put together the story surrounding the impact of your own research.

[Ed. For more information about altmetrics, see our web pages or drop us a message – we’d be interested to hear if and how this type of data might be useful to you as publishing researchers!]

What is Open Access Week? Open Access week is a global event, aimed at promoting and informing the academic and research community about the benefits of open access. Open Access is the free & immediate online access to the results of scholarly research, and the granting of rights to share, use and re-use those results.

  • You can see other activity at Durham University here, or follow our blog to learn more.
  • You can find out more about Open Access at Durham here.
  • Remember: any full text research publication you access from Durham Research Online, an author at Durham has made the effort to ensure that research is available for free to anyone, with the assistance of colleagues from Durham University Library and Collections, and departmental administrative staff across the University. Thanks all!

2 thoughts on “(Open Access Week) Telling the story of your research

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  1. Academics need to understand the ethics of closed and open access. In human geography [one of Durham’s star disciplines] for example, all of the ‘top journals’ are behind paywalls, with occasional OA articles for which authors have paid up to $3500 to keep their copyright in ‘hybrid’ prestige journals. This is unethical, because were the article above in that category, members of the public, and the media, would struggle much harder to find a copy. They would have to look for a Green OA version, contact the authors, or obtain a version though other means, some of which are a breach of copyright. We should be – as Plan S is trying to do – insist on OA. To make this affordable, the insane dominance by 5 publishing companies needs to be weakened, by our metrics and the REF accepting publication in a much wider range of journals including those run by individuals, societies, departments, and particularity by academics themselves. This requires senor academics to let go of ‘place of publication’ as a way to assess job candidates and promotion cases, and actually assess the work by reading it. As thousands are doing with this article.

    1. Many thanks for your comment Professor Batterbury.

      Open Access is a hot topic at Durham University. We have a University Open Access policy which encourages all Durham authored research to be made open access, and requires all journal articles and conference papers to be open access via our open access repository.


      We hope you also found our post earlier in the week interesting. This showed some of the free tools available to all, including browser plug-ins which enable easier acess to Green OA versions of paywalled articles which may be available from an open access repository


      Our University repositories currently provide free access to over 30,000 published scholarly outputs including journal articles, book chapters, doctroal theses and research datasets, as well as digitised versions of many of our unique special collections.


      We know that our academic colleagues in Geography have been focussed on widening access to their research for several years now. A quick look over the past 12-18 months shows that of over 600 published articles, in just under 200 different journals. These include several pure open access journals, including BMC Nutrition, Frontiers in Earth Science, Nature Communications, Journal of Hydrology X, Open Quaternary, PLoS One, Science Advances and Water Alternatives. 92% of these articles have already been deposited in our own open access repository, Durham Research Online.
      [Data accessed from our Staff Profile System and Publications repository, 28th October 2019]

      Plan S is a potential game changer, and their are significant differences in opinion across the academic community, not just at Durham University. We ran consultation workshops with academics across the University at the start of the year looking at Plan S, and whilst no-one did not support the principles of open access, or the importance of tackling open access alongside problems in the current publishing ecosystem, and the incentivisation and reward mechanisms prevalent in academia, there were many differing views as to how to achieve this. You may be interested in our pages on Plan S, which include the university’s response to the consultation in February of 2019, and a summary of the views of our academic colleagues raised from the workshops and discussions we had with them.


      As you point out, there is still plenty of work to be done, both in adapting current academic practice but also in investing in new systems and platforms for both the author, publisher and reader – in many cases, one-and-the-same person. But we hope that some of the activity we engage in here at Durham, and we know colleagues at Lancaster and hundreds of other university’s around the world do as well, is shaping that change and raising awareness of the some of the benefits, issues and options available.

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