Style, Content, and the Success of Ideas

Reihane Boghrati, Jonah Berger, Grant Packard

Why do some things succeed in the marketplace of ideas? While some argue that content drives success, others suggest that style, or the way ideas are presented, also plays an important role. To provide a stringent test of style's importance, we examine it in a context where content should be paramount: academic research. While scientists often see writing as a disinterested way to communicate unobstructed truth, a multi-method investigation indicates that writing style shapes impact. Separating style from content can be difficult as papers that tend to use certain language may also write about certain topics. Consequently, we focus on a unique class of words linked to style (i.e., function words such as "and," "the," and "on") that are completely devoid of content. Natural language processing of almost 30,000 articles from a range of disciplines finds that function words explain 13-27% of language's impact on citations. Ancillary analyses explore specific categories of function words to suggest how style matters, highlighting the role of writing simplicity, personal voice, and temporal perspective. Experiments further underscore the causal impact of style. The results suggest how to boost communication's impact and highlight the value of natural language processing for understanding the success of ideas.

Knowledge Graph

arrow_drop_up

Comments

Sign up or login to leave a comment