• The rhetorical structure of science? A multidisciplinary analysis of article headings

      Thelwall, Mike (Elsevier, 2019-03-19)
      An effective structure helps an article to convey its core message. The optimal structure depends on the information to be conveyed and the expectations of the audience. In the current increasingly interdisciplinary era, structural norms can be confusing to the authors, reviewers and audiences of scientific articles. Despite this, no prior study has attempted to assess variations in the structure of academic papers across all disciplines. This article reports on the headings commonly used by over 1 million research articles from the PubMed Central Open Access collection, spanning 22 broad categories covering all academia and 172 out of 176 narrow categories. The results suggest that no headings are close to ubiquitous in any broad field and that there are substantial differences in the extent to which most headings are used. In the humanities, headings may be avoided altogether. Researchers should therefore be aware of unfamiliar structures that are nevertheless legitimate when reading, writing and reviewing articles.