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Exploring the Role of Linguistic Abstraction in Idea-Generation Sessions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2019


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For many years, both academia and industry have been interested in increasing the efficiency of idea- generation meetings. Alex Osborne's (1953) rules for brainstorming are an early attempt to do so, and have extensively been used in engineering design, however their effectiveness has been questioned with recent research, and a need for fundamental research to establish which practices are useful arises. This study is an attempt in investigating linguistic abstraction in idea-generation meetings, in order to establish whether any best practices can be distilled from the language used. Engineering design group meetings were recorded and transcribed, and was analysed using a coding framework which was developed for analysing linguistic categories as well as the ideas that were generated during those meetings. More particularly, the study investigates the average abstractness/concreteness of speech throughout the duration of the meetings, as well as the switching between abstract and concrete language and vice versa while comparing idea-related discourse and non-idea related discourse switching. The coding framework proposed is considered robust enough to carry out further work.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.
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