Terms in journal articles associating with high quality: Can qualitative research be world-leading?

Mike Thelwall, Kayvan Kousha, Mahshid Abdoli, Emma Stuart, Meiko Makita, Paul Wilson, Jonathan Levitt

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint

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Purpose: Scholars often aim to conduct high quality research and their success is judged primarily by peer reviewers. Research quality is difficult for either group to identify, however, and misunderstandings can reduce the efficiency of the scientific enterprise. In response, we use a novel term association strategy to seek quantitative evidence of aspects of research that associate with high or low quality.
Design/methodology/approach: We extracted the words and 2-5-word phrases most strongly associating with different quality scores in each of 34 Units of Assessment (UoAs) in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021. We extracted the terms from 122,331 journal articles 2014-2020 with individual REF2021 quality scores.
Findings: The terms associating with high- or low-quality scores vary between fields but relate to writing styles, methods, and topics. We show that the first-person writing style strongly associates with higher quality research in many areas because it is the norm for a set of large prestigious journals. We found methods and topics that associate with both high- and low-quality scores. Worryingly, terms associating with educational and qualitative research attract lower quality scores in multiple areas. REF experts may rarely give high scores to qualitative or educational research because the authors tend to be less competent, because it is harder to make world leading research with these themes, or because they do not value them.
Originality: This is the first investigation of journal article terms associating with research quality.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2022


  • cs.DL
  • Research assessment
  • research quality
  • REF 2021
  • term frequency analysis
  • bibliometrics


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