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More confident, less formal: stylistic changes in academic psychology writing from 1970 to 2016

Abstract

Stylistic changes in academic psychology writing were examined in a corpus of 790,520 psychology journal article abstracts published between 1970 and 2016. We anticipated that changing linguistic norms of scientific writing and rising pressures to publish and promote research findings would be evident in increasing levels of personal pronoun use and expressive confidence (“clout”) over the study period. These predictions were tested using indices generated by Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software. Consistent with expectations, personal pronouns (especially first-person plural) became markedly more common over time, as did average levels of clout. Indices of analytical thinking, authenticity, and emotional tone did not show comparable shifts, suggesting that the primary changes are relatively circumscribed. Implications of these changes are discussed.

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Funding

This work was supported by the Australian Research Council DP210103984.

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Correspondence to Melissa A. Wheeler.

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The authors declared that they have no conflict of interest.

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Wheeler, M.A., Vylomova, E., McGrath, M.J. et al. More confident, less formal: stylistic changes in academic psychology writing from 1970 to 2016. Scientometrics 126, 9603–9612 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-021-04166-9

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Keywords

  • Writing style
  • Academic writing
  • Psychology abstracts
  • LIWC
  • Clout