What is research impact?

decorative image
Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash


Research impact can be defined as the contribution the research makes to a particular academic field, as well as the benefits of the research on individuals, organisations, and society as a whole (i.e., non-academic impact).

In today’s world, it’s becoming increasingly important to measure and describe the real world significance and reach of research.



The Australian Research Council provides a definition of research impact as follows:

“Research impact is the contribution that research makes to the economy, society, environment or culture, beyond the contribution to academic research.”

Types of research impact

In categorising the types of research impact consider who benefits and how.

The University College Dublin outlined in their Research Impact Toolkit that impact may be categorised as academic impact (the contribution the research makes to academia), as well as societal and economic impact (the contribution the research makes to society and the economy, and the benefit to individuals, organisations and nations).


The text from the defining impact image from “What is impact” is used with permission from University College Dublin. The text from this menu is under copyright from the University College Dublin and is not to be reproduced without permission.

How is research impact measured?

Research metrics are numerical measures used to assess the quality and the impact of research. There are two main types of metrics:

  1. Bibliometrics – Traditionally, research impact has been measured using bibliometrics. Bibliometrics are quantitative measures providing a statistical analysis of outputs and include citation counts, h-index, and journal impact factor. They support the traditional written output.
  2. Altmetrics – are qualitative measures that track mentions of academic research outputs – including non-traditional research outputs such as reports, creative works and The Conversation articles – in a range of resources such as social media, patents, policy papers, and news stories. Altmetrics can offer a more comprehensive view of research impact beyond traditional bibliometrics. 

How is research impact used?

Research impact can be used in several ways, including:

  1. Institutions use research impact measures, including bibliometrics, to show their research contribution.
  2. Funding bodies may use impact measures when assessing grant applications.
  3. Individuals can be assessed by their research impact in situations such as recruitment, promotion and grant applications.

Watch the following video to find out more about the broader context of research impact and why it’s important.

Research impact – University of Leicester (2:08 mins)

Research impact (2:08 min) by the University of Leicester (YouTube)



Take a moment and consider how your research has impacted in academia and in non-academic circles.

  • What has been the contribution in a field of study?
  • How has the new knowledge been adopted and adapted to inform further research and understanding?
  • What has been the societal impact of the research?
  • Has it informed policy and practices?
  • What contribution has the research had on the economy and technological advancements?
  • How has it impacted individuals, organisations and all nations?


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Research and Writing Skills for Academic and Graduate Researchers Copyright © 2022 by RMIT University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book