, Volume 83, Issue 1, pp 321-335

First online:

Using content analysis to investigate the research paths chosen by scientists over time

  • Chiara FranzoniAffiliated withDISPEA, Politecnico di Torino Email author 
  • , Christopher L. SimpkinsAffiliated withCollege of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • , Baoli LiAffiliated withCollege of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • , Ashwin RamAffiliated withCollege of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology

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We present an application of a clustering technique to a large original dataset of SCI publications which is capable at disentangling the different research lines followed by a scientist, their duration over time and the intensity of effort devoted to each of them. Information is obtained by means of software-assisted content analysis, based on the co-occurrence of words in the full abstract and title of a set of SCI publications authored by 650 American star-physicists across 17 years. We estimated that scientists in our dataset over the time span contributed on average to 16 different research lines lasting on average 3.5 years and published nearly 5 publications in each single line of research. The technique is potentially useful for scholars studying science and the research community, as well as for research agencies, to evaluate if the scientist is new to the topic and for librarians, to collect timely biographic information.


Content analysis Academic scientists Semantic search Research trajectories Knowledge development