As Writefull linguists, we love seeking out language patterns in scientific texts. A good way to do this is to analyze common word combinations to see how words naturally co-occur in texts.
Here we show results of an analysis of nominal groups including an adverb-adjective-noun sequence.

Our analysis

From a dataset of 300 million sentences from published papers, we extracted the most frequent adverb-adjective-noun sequences. An example was 'most important factor'.
The combinations were extracted from their original sentences and the noun elements were lemmatized. This means that counts for sequences such as ‘most important factor’ and ‘most important factors’ were combined.

A cut-off point of at least 500 occurrences in the dataset was chosen for item selection. This ensured that a balance was reached between 1) including the most frequent items and 2) keeping the list short enough as to be meaningful.
We arrived at a list of precisely 20 sequences.

Our findings

Below is a linear dendrogram showing the top 20 adverb-adjective-noun sequences extracted from our database of academic texts. The size of the orange dots next to the noun elements reflects the frequency of each sequence in the corpus. The bigger the dot, the more frequent the sequence.

Three adverbs only (‘statistically’, ‘most’, ‘significantly’) are shown to account for more than three-quarters of the list, each combining with just two adjectives at most.
The sequence ‘statistically significant difference(s)’ has a strikingly large dot, showing its outsize frequency relative to others.
Other notably large dots are ‘most common cause(s)’ and ‘significantly higher level(s)’.

Interestingly, more than half of these top 20 sequences explicitly refer to statistical findings (see lines following ‘statistically’ and ‘significantly’ adverbs). Reporting statistical results, identifying cause-and-effect relationships, quantifying effects in numerical terms, etc, are typical of many research papers across STEM and social sciences. So it isn’t surprising that this should be reflected in the most common adv-adj-noun nominal groups.

All items in this top 20 allude to what we might call ‘research observations’. To observe, carefully and scientifically, is the main task of the researcher.

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