The Danish Centre for Studies in Research and Research Policy

Maxime Sainte-Marie

Words by the tail: Assessing lexical diversity in scholarly titles using frequency-rank distribution tail fits

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Nicolas Bérubé, Canada
  • Maxime Sainte-Marie
  • Philippe Mongeon, CWTS, Leiden University
  • ,
  • Vincent Larivière, Canada

This research assesses the evolution of lexical diversity in scholarly titles using a new indicator based on zipfian frequency-rank distribution tail fits. At the operational level, while both head and tail fits of zipfian word distributions are more independent of corpus size than other lexical diversity indicators, the latter however neatly outperforms the former in that regard. This benchmark-setting performance of zipfian distribution tails proves extremely handy in distinguishing actual patterns in lexical diversity from the statistical noise generated by other indicators due to corpus size fluctuations. From an empirical perspective, analysis of Web of Science (WoS) article titles from 1975 to 2014 shows that the lexical concentration of scholarly titles in Natural Sciences & Engineering (NSE) and Social Sciences & Humanities (SSH) articles increases by a little less than 8% over the whole period. With the exception of the lexically concentrated Mathematics, Earth & Space, and Physics, NSE article titles all increased in lexical concentration, suggesting a probable convergence of concentration levels in the near future. As regards to SSH disciplines, aggregation effects observed at the disciplinary group level suggests that, behind the stable concentration levels of SSH disciplines, a cross-disciplinary homogenization of the highest word frequency ranks may be at work. Overall, these trends suggest a progressive standardization of title wording in scientific article titles, as article titles get written using an increasingly restricted and cross-disciplinary set of words.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0197775
JournalP L o S One
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

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