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Influence of the principle of least effort across disciplines


  • Yu-Wei Chang

    () (National Taiwan University)


Abstract This study investigated the influence of the principle of least effort (PLE) introduced by Zipf in his 1949 work, Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort: An Introduction to Human Ecology. The influence of the PLE was measured by examining articles across various disciplines published between 1950 and 2013 that cited Zipf’s original work. Our findings show that Zipf’s law was the most influential concept embedded in the original work, with the PLE being the second most cited concept. Although the PLE was the focus of Zipf’s 1949 book, its influence was much lower than that of Zipf’s law. Furthermore, Zipf’s law showed an increasing influence over time, whereas a decreasing influence was observed for the PLE. Of the 31 disciplines citing the PLE, library and information science articles cited it most, followed by psychology articles. Articles primarily cited the PLE to explain human behavior and language use. However, articles citing Zipf’s law focused on its formula.

Suggested Citation

  • Yu-Wei Chang, 2016. "Influence of the principle of least effort across disciplines," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 106(3), pages 1117-1133, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:scient:v:106:y:2016:i:3:d:10.1007_s11192-016-1838-0
    DOI: 10.1007/s11192-016-1838-0

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Costanza, Robert & Stern, David & Fisher, Brendan & He, Lining & Ma, Chunbo, 2004. "Influential publications in ecological economics: a citation analysis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(3-4), pages 261-292, October.
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