Measuring research success

Defining successful research can be complex. For novice researchers, success may involve completing research projects and publishing in peer-reviewed journals, but for experienced researchers more complex measures of success come into play. Each researcher’s reputation, future grant funding and career prospects depend on the success of each project, and the quality of the researcher’s track record.

By using networking sites, such as ResearchGate, LinkedIn and Google Scholar, researchers can acquire profile scores and citation counts based on the number of times their papers have been accessed, read or downloaded. These data may not take into account access to research by other means, such as through journal websites or institutional repositories.

Indexing services, such as Web of Science (Thomson Reuters), Scopus (Elsevier) and Google Scholar, measure the number of times a publication has been cited. The h-index reported on these sites combines a researcher’s productivity in terms of the number of papers published and the citation counts, or impact (Harzing 2008). The h-index does not distinguish between authors’ levels of contribution to papers or how long they have been researchers (Thompson and Clark 2015).

In practice disciplines, such as nursing, impact on policy, clinical practice and consumers must not be overlooked


These bibliometric measures concern only peer-reviewed publications, but in practice disciplines, such as nursing, impact on policy, clinical practice and consumers must not be overlooked. Not all nursing research has an immediate clinical application (Hallberg 2009). To ensure nurses deliver the best evidence-based care, their research must answer important clinical questions, and translate into policy and practice. Despite funding bodies’ recognition that this kind of clinical impact should be considered as part of a researcher’s track record, however, there is little agreement on how it should be measured.


As researchers move through their careers they will focus on different measures of success. Each measure has advantages and limitations, and none gives a complete picture of a researchers’ performance or the value of a project. The full range of metrics will help the researcher understand the impact of their work on academia, policy makers and clinical practice.


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