Spelling errors may harm rankings of universities

Linguistic inconsistencies in translating and spelling out the names of Iranian universities in international publications may be lowering the positioning of the country's universities in global ranking systems, according to a study.

By analysing more than 1,600 university name entries in author affiliation fields in journal publications listed in the citation database ISI Web of Science, researchers found that more than a third contained misspellings and some had more than 100 spelling variations.

Almost half of the 84 Ministry of Science, Research and Technology universities analysed had more than 10 different spellings each.

The authors of the study, which was published in July in the journal Scientometrics, say this variation may lower the universities' standing in international rankings, such the Academic Ranking of World Universities, which usually take each spelling to represent a different university.

"Despite great strides made by Iranian universities to promote their position in global ranking systems it appears that what they get is much less than what they really deserve and truly have done," concludes the study.

The authors put the misspellings down to author negligence, a lack of Persian language expertise on editorial boards of international journals, and a lack of standard spelling rules in Persian.

“Authors and native speakers follow a lot of unnecessary variations and quite often do not follow the spelling and writing rules,” said Mohammed Reza Falahati, one of the study's authors, based at the Regional Information Center for Science and Technology in Iran.

Falahati said the problem could be resolved if Iranian authors sought the help of Iranian editors or colleagues fluent in both Persian and English, or at least complied with the spelling used on their university's website.

He also suggested setting up standards for translating Persian script into English, especially for university names.

"I'm currently working on this sort of standardisation," Falahati told SciDev.

"I'm trying to compose algorithms that can account for the variations [of writing the Persian universities' names in English] and algorithms that can identify variant forms of a single term and consider them a single entity [in English] while processing the text."

The authors also suggest embedding a standardised list of Iranian universities in word processing software, such as Microsoft Word, which will automatically check university name spellings.

Tarek Adnan, head of scientific activities at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, told SciDev that spelling inconsistencies may be specific to Persian, and that the political situation is one of the main barriers to better adapting word processing software for Persian.

* This article by Rasha Dewedar, titled “Spelling errors may harm rankings of Iran's universities”, was first published on 17 September by SciDev. It is republished under a Creative Commons licence.