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Topic Modeling as a Strategy of Inquiry in Organizational Research: A Tutorial With an Application Example on Organizational Culture

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Research has emphasized the limitations of qualitative and quantitative approaches to studying organizational phenomena. For example, in-depth interviews are resource-intensive, while questionnaires with closed-ended questions can only measure predefined constructs. With the recent availability of large textual data sets and increased computational power, text mining has become an attractive method that has the potential to mitigate some of these limitations. Thus, we suggest applying topic modeling, a specific text mining technique, as a new and complementary strategy of inquiry to study organizational phenomena. In particular, we outline the potentials of structural topic modeling for organizational research and provide a step-by-step tutorial on how to apply it. Our application example builds on 428,492 reviews of Fortune 500 companies from the online platform Glassdoor on which employees can evaluate organizations. We demonstrate how structural topic models allow to inductively identify topics that matter to employees and to quantify their relationship with employees' perception of organizational culture. We discuss the advantages and limitations of topic modeling as a research method and outline how future research can apply the technique to study organizational phenomena.
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Topic Modeling as a Strategy of Inquiry in Organizational Research: A
Tutorial with an Application Example on Organizational Culture
Theresa Schmiedel, Oliver Müller, and Jan vom Brocke
Abstract
Research has emphasized the limitations of qualitative and quantitative approaches to
studying organizational phenomena. For example, in-depth interviews are resource-intensive,
while questionnaires with closed-ended questions can only measure predefined constructs.
With the recent availability of large textual data sets and increased computational power, text
mining has become an attractive method that has the potential to mitigate some of these
limitations. Thus, we suggest applying topic modeling, a specific text mining technique, as a
new and complementary strategy of inquiry to study organizational phenomena. In particular,
we outline the potentials of structural topic modeling for organizational research and provide
a step-by-step tutorial on how to apply it. Our application example builds on 428,492 reviews
of Fortune 500 companies from the online platform Glassdoor on which employees can
evaluate organizations. We demonstrate how structural topic models allow to inductively
identify topics that matter to employees and to quantify their relationship with employees’
perception of organizational culture. We discuss the advantages and limitations of topic
modeling as a research method and outline how future research can apply the technique to
study organizational phenomena.
Paper accepted for publication in Organizational Research Methods
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Keywords: topic modeling, structural topic model, tutorial, organizational culture, online
reviews
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 3
Introduction
Organizational research follows both quantitative and qualitative research paradigms
and applies various empirical methods for data collection and analysis (Currall, Hammer,
Baggett, & Doniger, 1999; Yauch & Steudel, 2003). Researchers may, for example, collect
qualitative data through interviews or observation and subsequently use coding techniques to
build a new theory explaining a particular organizational phenomenon. Or they may collect
quantitative data via surveys or experiments in order to statistically test theory-derived
hypotheses about cause-and-effect relationships in organizations. Both methodological
approaches come with certain limitations (Gioia, Corley, & Hamilton, 2013). For example,
the generalizability of case study data and the appropriateness of using questionnaires to gain
valid insights are often discussed issues (Hardy & Ford, 2014; Schein, 1990). Researchers
have, thus, called for new methods to studying organizational phenomena (Taras, Rowney, &
Steel, 2009).
In recent years, several disciplines have started applying methods novel to their fields
in order to gain access to new data sources. Specifically, computational methods for text
mining hold great potential for many disciplines, considering the vast amount of textual data
available today. First applications of text mining appeared in the biomedical field (Spasic,
Ananiadou, McNaught, & Kumar, 2005). But recently researchers from various other
disciplines have started to apply text mining as a strategy of inquiry (Bao & Datta, 2014;
Debortoli, Müller, Junglas, & vom Brocke, 2016; Janasik, Honkela, & Bruun, 2009; Michel et
al., 2011; Quinn, Monroe, Colaresi, Crespin, & Radev, 2010). Yet, while more and more
researchers have started using these data-analytic techniques, much needs to be done to
leverage their full potential in the organizational sciences (Tonidandel, King, & Cortina,
2016).
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 4
Accordingly, we suggest that organizational research embrace the methodological
advances from other fields and propose topic modeling as a specific text mining technique to
study organizational phenomena. Thus, the purpose of our research is to demonstrate the
utility of a new and complementary methodological approach to study organizations. We use
an application example that outlines which topics matter to employees’ perceptions of
corporate cultures. We show the potential of topic modeling as a methodology that can
advance organizational research and that can provide a complementary solution to the
prevailing issues regarding the use of extant empirical methods in the field.
Next, we provide some background on topic models in general and structural topic
models in particular. We then provide details on structural topic modeling in the form of a
step-by-step tutorial that contains an application example, in which we apply the method to
organizational culture research and examine online reviews of Fortune 500 companies. Our
approach includes identifying topics that matter to employees, quantifying the relationship of
these topics with employees’ perception of organizational culture, and engaging with existing
literature in interpreting the findings. Finally, we outline advantages and limitations of topic
modeling for organizational research and discuss application fields in organizational research
to, then, conclude with a summary and outlook.
Topic Modeling as a Method for Organizational Research
Traditional Organizational Research Methods
Organizational research applies both qualitative and quantitative research methods.
Qualitatively exploring organizational phenomena through techniques such as observations
and interviews allows themes and structures to be inductively identified through examining
patterns of individual behavior (Gioia et al., 2013; Morey & Morey, 1994; Van Maanen,
1979). A key advantage of qualitative studies is that the emerging insights on a particular
organization provide a deeply grounded picture of reality that accounts for the dynamics and
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 5
complexity of organizations (Sackmann, 2001). However, qualitative studies also come along
with weaknesses that have engendered criticism. For example, important aspects for research
may be overlooked, since social desirability can strongly influence the data collection process
(Yauch & Steudel, 2003). Furthermore, qualitative organizational studies require a
considerable amount of resources and, thus, typically focus on small samples only (Jung et al.,
2009).
Following a quantitative research paradigm allows organizational phenomena to be
measured and groups to be compared based on numerical data (Yauch & Steudel, 2003).
Typically, such research assesses organizational groups through the operationalization of a set
of relevant constructs (Fields, 2002). A key advantage of quantitative studies is their
scalability, that is, their efficient and effective examination of large samples at comparably
low costs and in comparably little time (Jung et al., 2009). Yet, scholars have criticized that
the use of predefined scales to measure constructs restricts exploration, because the
predetermined dimensions in survey instruments do not allow unanticipated insights to be
gained (Fields, 2002; Jung et al., 2009). Deeper levels of organizations cannot be explored
with surveys that assess given organizational categories and important issues may be
overlooked in such deductive approaches (Jung et al., 2009; Yauch & Steudel, 2003).
As qualitative and quantitative research methods differ in their strengths and
weaknesses, combining them can help overcome some of the trade-off between gaining in-
depth qualitative insights and gaining large amounts of quantitative data (Jung et al., 2009).
However, research on the complementary use of the two approaches is rare (Yauch & Steudel,
2003). One of the reasons for researchers’ reluctance to follow mixed-methods
recommendations may lie in the comprehensive effort that the combination of both
approaches requires.
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Summing up, the criticism regarding extant organizational research methods may
originate in the complexities involved in studying organizations on a broad empirical basis via
traditional methods such as case studies or surveys. Thus, researchers have called for new
ways to examine organizational phenomena (Taras et al., 2009) with alternative
methodological approaches that allow to study organizations inductively based on large
empirical samples (Berente & Seidel, 2014; Tonidandel et al., 2016). Our study takes up on
this call and provides guidance on the use of topic modeling, a specific text mining technique,
to address this research gap.
Topic Modeling
With the deluge of user-generated content available on the Internet, more and more
social science researchers started to make use of text mining techniques (Janasik et al., 2009).
The term text mining refers to computational methods for extracting potentially useful
knowledge from large amounts of text data (Fan, Wallace, Rich, & Zhang, 2006; Frawley,
Piatetsky-Shapiro, & Matheus, 1992). As a specific form of text mining, topic modeling is a
methodological approach to derive recurring themes from text corpora. For researchers, topic
modeling represents a novel tool for analyzing large collections of qualitative data in a
scalable and reproducible way.
Topic modeling can be understood as an automated method for content analysis and,
thus, complements traditional content analysis approaches, characterized by four basic phases,
in several ways (Duriau, Reger, & Pfarrer, 2007; Holsti, 1969; Weber, 1990). In the data
collection phase, topic modelling enables researcher to work with a much larger corpus of
documents than would be possible with manual methods; yet, the mechanics behind topic
modeling algorithms require a text corpus sufficiently large to produce valid and reliable
results. In the coding phase, standard topic modeling uses unsupervised machine learning
methods that can be compared to exploratory, inductive approaches, in which codes are
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 7
suggested by the data instead of predefined coding schema (Quinn et al., 2010; Urquhart,
2012); yet, extensions of standard topic modeling allow the algorithm to also be weakly
supervised to form topics that contain certain researcher-defined “seed words” (e.g.,
Jagarlamudi, Daumé III, & Udupa, 2012). In the content analysis phase, manual approaches
typically use frequency counts and cross-tabulations in combination with a qualitative
description of themes emerging from the investigation (Duriau et al., 2007); similarly, topic
modeling also combines quantitative analyses (e.g., summary statistics based on document
metadata) and qualitative interpretation (based on highly-associated documents and highly-
associated words) to analyze content (Quinn et al., 2010). In the interpretation of results
phase, a strength of topic modelling is to feed identified topics into subsequent statistical
analysis methods (e.g., clustering, principal components analysis, regression) (Debortoli et al.,
2016). Thus, in that it analyzes text corpora on a large scale to explore potentially new
concepts or new concept relations, topic modeling complements existing research methods.
Over the last ten years, probabilistic topic modeling, an unsupervised machine
learning method, has received growing attention as a tool for mining large collections of texts
in social science research (e.g., Bao & Datta, 2014; Müller, Junglas, vom Brocke, &
Debortoli, 2016; Quinn et al., 2010). Probabilistic topic models, like Latent Dirichlet
Allocation (LDA), are algorithms that are able to inductively identify topics running through a
large collection of documents and to assign individual documents to these topics (Blei, 2012;
Blei, Ng, & Jordan, 2003). The underlying idea of such algorithms is rooted in the
distributional hypothesis of linguistics (Firth, 1957; Harris, 1954), which posits that “words
that occur in the same contexts tend to have similar meanings” (Turney & Pantel, 2010, p.
142). For example, the co-occurrence of words like “sunshine”, “temperature”, “wind”, and
“rain” in a set of newspaper articles can be interpreted as a marker for a common topic of
these articles, namely “weather”. Hence, topic modelling algorithms like LDA take a
relational approach to meaning in the sense that co-occurrences of words are important in
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 8
defining their meaning and the meaning of topics (DiMaggio, Nag, & Blei, 2013). Due to
their emphasis on relationality, topic models are able to capture polysemy and different uses
of a word based on the contexts in which it occurs. For example, the term “bank” can co-
occur with words like “money” and “credit” in one topic, and “river” and “water” in another
topic – indicating two very different meanings for the same word. The focus of topic
modelling on analyzing word usage patterns in a corpus to uncover its content is in strong
contrast to automated content analysis approaches that try to formalize the semantics of words
by means of dictionaries. Rather, the idea behind topic models is in line with the belief of
many linguists and philosophers that meanings emerge out of relations between words rather
than reside within single words (DiMaggio et al., 2013). For example, Wittgenstein warned
against the view that the meaning of a word is defined by the object that it refers to; instead,
he famously stated (Wittgenstein, 2010, Section 43): "For a large class of cases – though not
for all – in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a
word is its use in the language."
In contrast to traditional classification or clustering methods, which assign a data point
to exactly one category, probabilistic topic models allow documents to belong to multiple
categories with a varying degree of membership. Statistically, probabilistic topic models
represent documents by a probability distribution over a fixed set of topics, and each topic, in
turn, by a probability distribution over a fixed vocabulary of words. The per-document topic
distribution is a matrix with one row per document and one column per topic; the cells of the
matrix contain probabilities indicating the prevalence of a topic in a document (the
probabilities for one document add up to 100%). Similarly, the per-topic word distribution is a
matrix with one row per word and one column per topic; the cells of the matrix contain
probabilities indicating the relative occurrence of a word in a topic (the probabilities for one
topic also add up to 100%). Taken together, the two matrices represent a statistical summary
of the contents of the complete document collection (Figure 1, black text).
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 9
Figure 1 Schematic overview of structural topic modeling
While standard probabilistic topic models can provide insights into the topical
structure of a whole document collection and individual documents, they cannot easily show
how document metadata (e.g., author, date) is related to the content of a document (Roberts,
Stewart, & Airoldi, 2016). However, social scientists are often specifically interested in the
relationship between document metadata and content; for example, online reviews posted on
websites like Amazon or Yelp include a review text and additional metadata, such as a
numerical rating. Building on the idea of probabilistic topic models, Roberts et al. (2016) have
developed the structural topic model (STM), which allows document metadata to be
incorporated into the estimation of the per-document topic distributions (Topic prevalence)
and per-topic word distributions (Topic content). Figure 1 illustrates the key idea behind the
standard probabilistic topic model (black text), and how the structural topic model (red text)
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 10
extends this model by allowing the per-document topic distributions and per-topic word
distribution to vary as a function of document-level covariates.
STM provides two main advantages compared to other topic modeling approaches.
First, from a statistical point of view, considering document metadata as covariates in the
topic estimation procedure is likely to improve the fit of the resulting model to the input data.
Second, and more important from a social science perspective, it is often the relationship
between known covariates and latent topics that is in the main focus of a study, and STM is
able to provide this information in the form of coefficient estimates known from generalized
linear models.
Next, we outline step-by-step how organizational researchers can apply STM to study
the relationships between latent topics and observable metadata of a large collection of
documents. For a more formal description of STM and its estimation the interested reader is
referred to Roberts et al. (2016).
Step-by-Step Tutorial and Application Example
As in any study, defining a research question is at the outset of a topic modeling study
and guides all further data collection and analysis steps. In our application example, we are
interested in the following question: What organizational factors influence employee’s
perception of corporate culture?
Step 1: Data Collection
Considerations
The data collection phase requires careful reflection on the availability and suitability
of data for answering a particular research question using topic modeling.
Regarding volume, data collection needs to ensure a sufficiently large size of the text
corpus, since the statistics behind topic modeling algorithms require a certain volume of text
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 11
to produce accurate and meaningful results. The size of the corpus can vary depending on the
amount of text files and the length of the single documents. Unfortunately, existing literature
to date lacks theoretically-justified guidelines regarding minimal corpus size, but insights
from empirical studies can provide some guidelines. Experimental studies suggest that the
results of LDA for corpora with few documents (i.e., <100) are very difficult to interpret,
even if the documents are long; the interpretability of topic models improves with increased
corpus size and stabilizes at around 1,000 documents (Nguyen, 2015). Analyzing metadata of
existing topic modeling studies provides additional useful insights. The cloud-based topic
modeling service MineMyText.com hosts more than 400 active topic modeling projects
conducted by more than 230 researchers. A descriptive analysis of these projects (Table 1)
reveals that the average study comprises approx. 38,000 documents and that documents have
an average length of 84 words. These statistics suggest that researchers typically use the
service to analyze relatively large amounts of short texts, for example, social media posts
(Note that the distributions of number of documents and words per document are heavily
right-skewed). The length of the document influences both the number of topics included in
the texts (see step 3) and the shape of the per-document topic distributions; for corpora with
short documents, the distributions are typically dominated by one or two topics, while long
documents, that bear more topics, are often characterized by a more uniform topic
distribution.
Table 1 Descriptive statistics of number of documents and words per document of 416
topic modeling projects hosted on MineMyText.com
Min 1st Quartile Median Mean 3rd Quartile Max
Number of
documents
4 231 3,279 38,582 20,000 866,115
Words per
document
1 6 14 84 35 5,038
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 12
Regarding representativeness, data collection needs to consider appropriate sampling
to ensure generalizability of the study findings. In particular, researchers need to pay attention
to potential systematic biases in their sample. Such biases can occur, for example, when
available data only represents a specific part of the population under study (e.g., social media
selection bias) or when the data predominantly covers a specific time period. In such cases,
researchers need to consider including additional data from other sources, adjusting their
study focus, or proceeding and accepting respective limitations. For example, researchers
could explore the distribution of documents over time and decide whether they want to
exclude or down-sample documents from certain time periods to avoid that one epoch
dominates the topic modeling results or crowds other documents out.
Key Decisions
In practical terms, researchers need to take the following key decisions in the data
collection phase:
- What is the best way to gain access to text documents? While some data is
publically available and can be accessed via Application Programming Interfaces
(APIs), web crawlers, or file downloads (Debortoli et al., 2016), other data can
only be accessed via collaborations (e.g., data from social networks or content
sharing platforms). The technical data collection strategy may also influence the
time frame that can be captured. Many APIs and web crawlers only provide data
snapshots, and not historical data; so, if researchers are interested in a longitudinal
dataset, they may need to develop scripts that periodically extract data.
- What document metadata should be extracted? Apart from discovering the topical
structure of a text corpus (which could also be a study purpose on its own),
researchers are often interested in examining the relation of latent topics with other
variables. While standard document metadata (e.g., time stamp, author) can
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 13
provide insightful descriptive statistics, STM also allows numerical covariates to
be included into the estimation procedure (e.g., answers to Likert-scale questions
in surveys, or numerical “star” ratings in online reviews) to explore construct
relations with further variables. The type of metadata to be included depends on
the study purpose and the related research question. Regarding the maximum
number of covariates that can be included, issues of overfitting or non-adequate
statistical power are far less likely to be a limitation for topic modeling studies as
compared to traditional regression analysis of numerical data, since topic modeling
typically builds on much larger data samples. So, while the number of covariates
that can be included depends on the sample size, a minimum of 1000 documents
for conducting topic modeling hardly leads to a limitation in including covariates
in practice.
Application Example
We apply structural topic models in the field of organizational culture, because
research in this organizational field has explicitly called for new ways to study culture beyond
the classic qualitative and quantitative approaches (Taras et al., 2009). Our application builds
on data from the online review platform Glassdoor. The platform allows employees to
anonymously review organizations in which they have been or are currently employed. These
reviews include both text and numerical evaluations. The textual reviews provide insights into
organizational aspects that are particularly relevant to employees, while the numerical parts of
the review include an evaluation of the organizational culture. In our study, we examine a
longitudinal dataset of 428,492 reviews of Fortune 500 companies spanning the period from
2008 to 2015. Access to the dataset was made possible through a collaboration with
Glassdoor. Since the text corpus covers only data from employees who are active on this
online review platform, the generalizability of our findings is limited to the perceptions of this
group. Further, the reviews are not uniformly distributed over time as half of the reviews were
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 14
written after 2013, which biases our findings towards the recent past. However, the goal of
our application example is to illustrate the general use of structural topic modeling for
organizational research and provide first insights into what factors influence employees’
perception of corporate culture. Thus, we decided to proceed albeit these limitations.
Step 2: Data Preparation
Considerations
The data preparation phase focuses on getting an in-depth understanding of the data
and auditing data quality, including potential steps for cleaning data.
With regards to data understanding, researchers should spend sufficient time on
exploratory data analysis. In particular, descriptive statistics and visualizations help to get a
deeper understanding of the data. Such analyses typically allow understanding the
distributional properties of available metadata (e.g., age, gender, industry), which also covers
understanding the percentage of missing values. However, exploratory analysis can go beyond
statistics and include exploring the potential structure of the textual data (e.g., how far text is
split into passages with different functions, such as abstract, main text, references).
With regards to data quality, textual data, by comparison with numerical data, is
characterized by a lack of well-defined data structures and a higher proportion of noise.
Hence, text data typically needs to undergo extensive preparatory steps before it can be passed
on to the actual topic-modeling algorithm. Data cleaning comprises various steps, for
example, removing duplicates or “spam”. Table 2 provides an overview of standard data
cleaning and preparation steps that researchers can use to prepare their data, to remove noise,
and to gradually turn the unstructured textual data into a numerical representation that is
amenable to subsequent statistical analysis (Miner, 2012).
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 15
Table 2 Data cleaning and preparation steps to consider
Step Specification Necessity Considerations
Transforming
document
formats
Converting
raw text data
into the
required data
format for
further
processing
On demand Raw text data requires transformation if the original data
format cannot be processed by the chosen tool. For
example, if documents are stored in individual .txt files,
it is often required to consolidate them in a single .csv or
.json file that represents the whole corpus before further
analysis in R is possible.
Constructing
metadata
attributes
Deriving
metadata
variables
from given
data
On demand If a specific research question explicitly calls for certain
metadata variables that can be derived from the given
data set, researchers need to take this step before
examining variable relations. An example is calculating
the age of a document from its date of creation.
Removing
duplicates
Eliminating
redundant
documents
Mandatory Large text collections often contain duplicate
documents, such as, repeated posts of the same message
by the same user on Twitter or repeated copies of the
same email newsletter. To avoid biases, these duplicates
need to be eliminated (see application example).
Tokenization Splitting
documents
into
sentences
and
sentences
into words
Mandatory Tokenization represents a key prerequisite for extracting
topics from documents, since topics are derived based on
word distributions. At this, researchers have to decide
whether to treat strings separated by whitespaces as
separate words (uni-grams, e.g., new, york, city), or to
allow sequences of two (bi-grams, e.g., New York) or
three (tri-grams, e.g., New York City) strings to be
treated as composite words.
Stop word
removal
Removing
common or
uninformative
tokens
Recommended Removing standard stop words (e.g., “the”, “and”), lists
of which are available in all major text mining tools,
reduces noise in the topics and is, thus, highly
recommended. Beyond, researchers need to decide
whether to optionally exclude further customized stop
words. We recommend to do so, if words are highly
frequent in the text corpus without adding meaning to
the single topics (e.g., most topics in our application
example included “company”, which is to be expected in
company reviews).
Normalization Turning
capital letters
into lower
case
Recommended Normalization helps to reduce noise in the topics, so that
capitalized words and words with lower case do not
appear separately in the per-topic word distributions.
Part-of-
speech
filtering
Identifying
and filtering
words by
their part of
speech
Optional Filtering the text corpus to only retain parts of speech
that are important to convey the content of a text (e.g,
nouns, verbs, adjectives), can add clarity to the topic
models. Yet, when removing function words (e.g.,
auxiliary verbs, pronouns), important stylistic
information of the texts can get lost.
Lemmatizing/
stemming
Reducing a
word to its
dictionary
form or to its
stem
Optional Lemmatizing or stemming also reduces noise in the data
and can lead to cleaner topics. However, aggressively
reducing different word forms to their common stem or
dictionary form may also cause a loss of information, as
one cannot distinguish between subtle differences in
meaning anymore (e.g., when turning a verb from past to
present tense).
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 16
Key Decisions
Translating the above considerations into practical questions, the data preparation
phase includes the following key decision:
- Which parts of the text corpus are relevant? Based on an in-depth understanding
of the data and its quality, researchers can take informed decisions regarding
which data parts to include in their topic modelling approach. These decisions can
comprise selecting relevant text passages, selecting a subset of the data based on
metadata, and selecting appropriate data cleaning steps to prepare the data for
further analysis.
- Is it appropriate to differentiate data subsets? If researchers would like to compare
topic-modeling results of subgroups in the data, they need to ensure that the
subgroups are sufficiently large for a meaningful comparison. Like in traditional
regression analysis, too small subgroups can increase the risk of type II errors
(Kelley & Maxwell, 2003). Thus, we refer researchers to well-established
guidelines on sample sizes to ensure sufficient statistical power (Scherbaum &
Ferreter, 2009; VanVoorhis & Morgan, 2007).
Application Example
After exploring the overall dataset using descriptive statistics and visualizations, we
first cleaned the data by eliminating duplicate reviews (using the duplicated function in R),
reviews that were not written in the English languagea, and reviews with missing values for
the numerical corporate culture rating. In addition, we decided to focus on reviews from the
10 industries with the largest number of reviews in the sample to allow for valid comparisons
of employees’ cultural preferences between industry sectors.
a To remove non-English documents, we applied a simple but effective heuristic. We looked up all the words of a document
in an English stop word list. If we did not find any match, we considered the document to be non-English. An alternative
approach would be to use a language detection service, such as, Google Translation API
(https://cloud.google.com/translate/docs/detecting-language).
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 17
To execute the document-level natural language processing steps, we used the
statistical computing programming language R, or more specifically the tm (text mining) and
stm (structural topic models) packages. Using the textProcessor function, we tokenized the
documents into single words (uni-grams) and removed standard English language stop words
(we used the standard English stop word list of the tm package), a small number of custom
stop words (e.g., company), words with fewer than three letters, numbers, and punctuation.
We decided to work with uni-grams instead of bi- or tri-grams, as the topic modeling
algorithm works on the basis of co-occurrences and anyhow clusters the individual elements
of composite words (e.g., “New York City”) together in the same topics. Hence, using uni-
gram tokenization allows for more flexibility (e.g., “New York” vs. “New York City”) and
results in smaller overall vocabulary sizesb, without losing essential meaning. Finally, we
stemmed all the words and converted all characters to lower case to reduce the dimensionality
of the data set. After preprocessing we were left with 295,532 reviews that consist of around
14.8 million words overall (i.e., 35 words per review) and 2,592 unique words.
Step 3: Identification of Topics
Considerations
In this phase, researchers need to carefully reflect on validity and reliability criteria
when extracting and interpreting topics from their data.
Regarding construct validity, researchers need to ensure that the topics they identify
indeed represent what they claim to represent. To date, no commonly accepted methods for
measuring convergent and discriminant validity of topics have emerged. Yet, researchers have
developed statistical metrics that relate to these quality criteria, namely coherence and
exclusivity. Semantic coherence is a measure of the internal coherence of topics and highly
correlates with human judgments of topic quality (Mimno, Wallach, Talley, Leenders, &
b With tri-gram tokenization the phrase “New York City” would be deconstructed into at least five elements (i.e., “new”,
“York”, “city”, “New York”, “NewYork City”), instead of three.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 18
McCallum, 2011; Roberts, Stewart, & Tingley). It, thus, serves as an indicator for the validity
of the identified topics. Technically, it measures how often the most probable words of a
given topic actually co-occur close to each other in the original texts. Exclusivity measures
the distinctness of topics by comparing the similarity of word distributions of different topics.
A topic is exclusive if its top words are unlikely to appear within the top words of other
topics. While semantic coherence focuses on the internal qualities of single topics, exclusivity
takes the similarity between different topics of the same model into account. For example,
two topics with very similar word distributions might both have high semantic coherence
scores if their top words tend to co-occur within documents, but low exclusivity scores
indicating that the overall topic model contains redundant information and performs bad in
differentiating between concepts appearing in the text corpus.
Semantic coherence and exclusivity are both a function of the number of topics that a
topic model contains. Hence, these metrics can be used to guide the selection of an “optimal”
number of topics. Apart from performing a search over different topic numbers and
comparing coherence and exclusivity of the resulting models, no commonly accepted rules for
analytically determining this number for a given corpus have emerged so far. Yet, to guide
this search we can again turn to the results of our empirical analysis of the topic modeling
projects hosted on MineMyText.com (Table 3). Half of the studies hosted on the platform
contain between 10 and 50 topics and the average study works with 35 topics; less than 5
percent of the studies have extracted more than 100 topics. Furthermore, the scatterplot in
Figure 2 shows that there is a positive correlation between the number of documents in a
corpus and the number of topics that are extracted from that corpus.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 19
Table 3 Descriptive statistics of number of topics of 416 topic modeling projects hosted
on MineMyText.com.
Min 1st Quartile Median Mean 3rd Quartile Max
Number of
topics
2 10 20 35 50 250
Figure 2 Relationship between number of documents and number of topics of 416 topic
modeling projects hosted on MineMyText.com
In addition to these quantitative analyses, researchers are advised to qualitatively
examine the words and documents that are strongly associated with each topic in order to
interpret the meaning of the identified topics. To ensure the reliability of this process,
researchers should use multiple coders and spend enough resources to reach consensus about
the meaning of topics.
Regarding face validity, researchers need to carefully examine the relevance of the
identified topics for their specific study context. While researchers selected a specific text
corpus because they expected it to contain answers to their research question, it is very likely
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 20
that the topic-modeling algorithm also extracts topics that are not within the scope of the
study (e.g., topics describing the structure of text documents with terms such as “abstract”,
“introduction”, “conclusion”). Therefore, researchers need to examine how far the extracted
topics relate to the phenomenon of interest before proceeding.
Key Decisions
Based on the introduced considerations, the following practical decisions represent
important steps in the topic identification phase:
- How many topics are covered in the data? For the identification of topics, the user
has to specify the number of topics to be discovered from the document collection.
Finding the right number of topics means to iteratively analyze the data with
various amounts of topics to avoid both overloaded and overlapping topics.
Metrics such as semantic coherence and exclusivity can help decide on an
appropriate number of topics in the corpus.
- What are appropriate labels for the identified topics? Based on words and
documents that are highly associated with each topic, researchers need to identify
suitable labels that describe the essence of a topic. For topic labeling, researchers
typically use multiple coders; cases of disagreement need close attention and
require sufficient in-depth discussion until agreement can be reached.
Application Example
In our application example, we first identified the appropriate number of topics to be
derived from the text corpus. Although there is no single “correct” number of topics, we tried
to follow a reproducible script to arrive at a final decision. First, we examined the average
semantic coherence and exclusivity of different topic models ranging from 10 to 100 topics
(The upper and lower bounds of this range were motivated by the above shown statistics
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 21
derived from MineMyText.com). Figure 3 shows the scores for exclusivity at the top and
scores for semantic coherence at the bottom.
Figure 3 Semantic coherence and exclusivity of various topic model solutions
As one can see from the plot, no model dominates the others. While the scores for
exclusivity generally improved with an increase in the number of topics, the scores for
semantic coherence first declined before improving again for models with more than 60
topics. The reading of the graphs suggested that one opt either for a small (20 or 30 topics) or
large (70-100 topics) model, since these yield good scores in both statistical measures.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 22
To complement the quantitative analysis and decide on the appropriate number of
topics, we qualitatively examined the interpretability of the different models. We discarded
the small topic models (20 or 30 topics), as they merged similar topics and did not clearly
differentiate between themes. Examining the large topic models, we found that models with
80 or more topics revealed duplicate topics that differed only in writing style. Thus, we settled
on 70 topics as the best option, as the values for semantic coherence and exclusivity did not
substantially improve for larger topic models and the qualitative analysis of the 70-topics
model revealed clearly interpretable topics.
For the interpreting and labeling of topics, we used the labelTopics function of the stm
package, which produces four different weightings of the most important words per topic (i.e.,
Highest Probability, FREX, Lift, and Score). The Highest Probability weighting uses the raw
per-topic word probabilities; FREX uses a weighted mean of overall word frequency and the
exclusivity of words to a topic; Lift uses the frequency of a term in other topics to emphasize
words that are specific to a topic; and, similarly, Score uses the log frequency of terms in
other topics to identify words that are specific to a topic (Roberts et al.). Two researchers
independently coded each topic by examining the four word rankings for each topic and
examining reviews highly associated with each topic. While we assessed all of the four word
weightings, we paid most attention to the Highest Probability and Score metrics, because the
other metrics ranked very rare terms (e.g. typos) high. For example, the Score words that
represent Topic 67 include “employe”, “appreci”, “respect”, and “care” (note that terms are
stemmed) and reviews that are closely associated with the topic refer to how far management
appreciates employees. Hence, we labelled this topic “employee appreciation”.
Table 4 shows additional examples of topics, highly associated words, extracts from
the most probable reviews, and the topic labels generated by the researchers. Consolidating
the individual coding results, the topic labeling exercise revealed high inter-coder reliability
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 23
with an inter-coder agreement of 86 percent and an average Kappa value of 0.86 (Light, 1971;
Moore & Benbasat, 1991). In cases where the labels differed between researchers, the
researchers discussed their findings until they reached a consensus about a label. Table A.1 in
the appendix provides an overview of all 70 topics.
Table 4 Exemplary topic labeling
Topic
ID
Highly associated terms Exemplary review
text
Topic label
4 Highest Prob: help, will, work, alway, need, peopl,
everyon
FREX: help, succeed, eager, pharmacist, answer,
question, pharmaci
Lift: havochir, unitychalleng, preparedlisten, endedif,
againcustom, althiugh, instructionsinform
Score: help, succeed, question, alway, will, everyon,
answer
“People are very
friendly and are
always willing to
help you with
anything you need
whether they work
on your team or
not.”
help
54 Highest Prob: employe, manag, door, polici, open,
concern, listen
FREX: revolv, door, suggest, digniti, concern, retali,
treatment
Lift: consequens, epilepsi, excelretali, accomplis,
packagek, worker-suggest, wouild
Score: employe, door, polici, concern, open, listen, treat
“When
management says
they are listening
they really are not.
Take heed to the
open door policy.”
listening
46 Highest Prob: job, stress, easi, work, high, good, secur
FREX: repetit, stress, bore, secur, easi, volum, monoton
Lift: family-friendi, simpleit, goodpushi, timeask,
freedomgreat, networkgood, constantlyfear
Score: job, stress, easi, secur, bore, high, repetit
“High stress work
environment with
nonstop fire drills
and very little
reward.”
stress
Next, we had to determine which topics are relevant to our research question. Thus,
we first individually examined the content of all 70 topics and marked those topics that are
not meaningful to answer our research question; we, then, consolidated our individual topic
examinations. We found that most of the topics we identified represent organizational factors
that employees value (or dislike) in companies. They include, for example, the following
topics: “work-life balance”, “flexibility”, “employee treatment”, “lying”, and “home office”.
However, we also found topics important to employees that did not refer to organizational
factors. For example, some topics refer to a specific company (e.g., “Apple”, “Barnes and
Noble”, “Medco”, “Starbucks”), a certain employee function or type (e.g., “sales”, “software
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 24
development team”, “store managers”, “store employees”, “internship”), or particular
industry-specific vocabulary (e.g., “consulting”, “corporate clients”, “store management”).
Further topics described organizations on an overall level, and thus did not refer to specific
organizational aspects (e.g., “great place to work”, “best company”). Additionally, some
topics referred to the general vocabulary of company reviews (e.g. “general review
vocabulary” included terms like “pros”, “worst”, “none”; “work vocabulary” included terms
like “work”, “people”, “employe”; “time vocabulary” referred to terms like “long”, “term”,
“hour”, “short”). Also, some factors were generated that did not reveal meaningful topics. We
excluded all topics irrelevant to our research purpose from the further analysis. Following this
examination, we focused on 45 topics that allowed us to address our research question and
studied their relation to the employees’ perception of organizational culture.
Step 4: Relationships between Topics and Other Variables
Considerations
The core feature of STM is that it allows to examine the relationship between the
identified topics and document-level covariates.
Regarding topic-covariate relationships, researchers should have comprehensive
background knowledge on established concept relations in their field of study to derive
meaningful hypotheses about potential relationships in their data. STM allows for complex
relationships between latent topics and covariates to be specified, including, for example,
interaction effects or non-linear relationships using regression splines.
Regarding coefficient estimates, STM follows the logic of generalized linear models
and offers a number of functionalities to calculate the uncertainty of the coefficient estimates.
In addition, the stm package offers functionalities to visualize complex interaction effects or
non-linear relationships using partial dependence plots, which hold all variables, except the
ones under consideration, at their sample medians.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 25
Key Decisions
In order to specify and interpret topic-covariate relationships, researchers need to take
the following key decisions:
- Which specific topics should be included in the analysis? Ex ante analysis,
researchers need to decide which topics should be included in the model
specification. While researchers may have extracted a broad number of topics from
their corpus, they might want to only model a subset of all possible covariate-topic
relationships. For example, examining reasons for customer satisfaction based on
product reviews may yield a very broad number of generally relevant topics; yet,
for further analysis, researchers may only want to focus on topics relating to
customer service and select these topics accordingly.
- Which topics can be included in the interpretation? Ex post analysis, researchers
need to consider significances when selecting insightful topic-covariate relations
for interpretation. The stm package automatically reports standard errors, t-
statistics, and p-values for all coefficient estimates.
Application Example
We apply the estimateEffect function of the stm package to examine the importance of
the identified organizational factors for employees’ perception of organizational culture, that
is, the relation of the identified topics to numerical company ratings.
We used two document-level metadata variables as covariates for our analysis: the
numerical star rating of the organizational culture dimension and the industry sector the
organization belongs to. Regarding culture star ratings, company reviewers can numerically
assess their satisfaction with the “culture and values” of the company they review. For this
purpose, reviewers have the option to rate the organization and express their satisfaction
regarding “culture and values” with one (low satisfaction) to five (high satisfaction) stars.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 26
Regarding industry sector, the datasets included a specification of the industry that the
reviewed companies belong to. We included this variable in our analysis to account for
potential differences between sectors.
We fit an estimation model to the data based on the following generic model:
Prevalenceij ~ β0 + β1 * Ratingi + β2 * Industryi + β3 * Industryi * Ratingi + εi,
where i indexes the ith review and j indexes the jth topic, Prevalenceij is the matrix of topic
prevalence values derived from the STM analysis, β0 is the intercept, Ratingi is the numerical
company rating of a review, β1 its respective coefficient, Industryi is a categorical variable for
industry sector, β2 its respective coefficient, and εi is the standard error term. Besides
modeling the main effects of culture star rating and industry sector, we also considered
interactions between these two covariates. This is captured by the coefficient estimate β3 and
allows for an industry-moderated effect of culture star ratings on topic prevalence.
For each topic, we received an output specifying all estimates, standard errors, and p-
values relating to the topic. Figure 4 shows the output for topic 10, “employee treatment”. We
can see a negative association between employee treatment and the number of stars given to
rate organizational culture. The negative estimate for stars shows that reviews with high star
ratings are most likely not covering employee treatment as a topic, while reviews with low
star ratings most likely cover employee treatment and report negatively on interactions
between managers and employees.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 27
Figure 4 Exemplary output for each topic
The industry estimates show that employees from some sectors are more likely to
discuss topic 10 in their reviews than employees from other sectors. For example, employees
from the sectors “Restaurants, Bars & Food Services”, “Retail”, and “Health Care” are more
likely to write about employee treatment than employees from other sectors. The interaction
estimates show that reviews with high star ratings differ in their coverage of topic 10
depending on the sector the employee works in. For example, employees from the IT sector
are more likely than employees from other sectors to write about employee treatment when
they rate the organizational culture highly, while employees from the retail sector are less
likely than employees from other sectors to address employee treatment in their reviews when
they rate the organizational culture highly.
Table A.2 in the Appendix provides an overview of the estimates of all topics in our
analysis. To illustrate the relation between various topics and culture perceptions across
industries, Table 5 visualizes exemplary estimates.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 28
Table 5 Exemplary estimates on the relation between topics, culture, and industries
ID Topics Culture estimates*
(indicating positive
or negative
association with
topics)
Industry estimates*
(indicating more or less
presence of topics in
reviews of an industry)
Interaction estimates*
(indicating positive or
negative association of
culture estimates with
topics depending on the
industry)
IT Retail Stars:IT Stars:Retail
26 Career opportunities 0.0089 0.0066 -0.0052 -0.0035 -0.0067
21 Work-life balance 0.0040 0.0058 -0.0030
6 Flexibility 0.0040 -0.0013
49 Brain drain -0.0027 0.0125 -0.0152 0.0023
52 Laid back atmosphere -0.0034 -0.0065 -0.0149 0.0011 0.0030
57 Poor management -0.0050 -0.0181
0.0028
* bold font = significant at 0.001 level, normal font = significant at 0.01 or 0.05 level, italic font = significant at 0.1 level,
missing value = not significant
The comparison shows that employees emphasize different topics depending on their
perception of organizational culture. For example, employees who value the existing culture,
in general, report positively on career opportunities, work-life balance, and flexibility; while
employees who dislike the corporate culture, in general, report negatively on the management,
a laid-back atmosphere, and brain drain. In the IT sector, employees are more likely to point
out topics like career opportunities or brain drain than employees from the retail sector. A
laid-back atmosphere is less likely to be a topic in the IT and retail sectors compared to other
sectors. However, when employees from the IT and retail sectors highly value their corporate
culture, they are more likely to refer to a laid-back atmosphere (topic 52) than employees
from other sectors; however, they are less likely to refer to career opportunities (topic 26).
Figure 5 graphically illustrates the overall effects that relate to the topics “laid-back
atmosphere” (topic 52) and “career opportunities” (topic 26). The graphic on the left side
shows the relation between the topic prevalence and the culture star rating of the two topics in
the IT sector, while the graphic on the right side refers to the retail sector.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 29
Figure 5 Effects of culture star rating on topic prevalence (IT (left), retail (right) sector)
In both sectors, the general shape of the curves is similar (increase of the reference to
career opportunities the more employees are satisfied with the corporate culture; decrease of
mentioning a laid-back atmosphere the more highly the organizational culture is rated).
However, career opportunities are mentioned more often in the IT sector, with an increase in
valuing the corporate culture, compared with the retail sector; furthermore, the decrease in
discussing a laid-back atmosphere when people highly value their organizational culture is
stronger in the IT sector than in the retail sector.
Step 5: Interpretation of Findings and Engagement with Existing Literature
Considerations
Interpreting the findings and comparing them to extant work requires researchers to
reflect on potentially new insights through the exploratory research approach.
Regarding the exploratory nature of topic modelling, researchers need to pay
particularly close attention to the most dominant findings, especially to those aspects that are
surprising in a given context. Typically, topic modelling reveals a broad number of topics on
an overarching theme and, while many may be relevant, only a few manage to attract
attention, most likely because they are extreme or unexpected.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 30
Regarding new concepts or concept relations, researchers should reflect their findings
against the background of existing research. A comparison with extant state-of-the-art
research may confirm existing findings or reveal that additional concepts or concept relations
are relevant in a certain context.
Key Decisions
Closely related to the above considerations, researchers need to take the following key
decisions in this phase:
- Which of my findings are “interesting” and which insights do they bring?
Researchers should assess their results to identify potentially new topics and topics
with a very strong positive or negative relation to other variables. A comparison
between data subsets may help to identify interesting findings that yield insights
for research and practice.
- Which prior research results do my findings fit to, extend, or contradict the most?
Researchers should build on potentially interesting findings and examine how far
these go beyond existing work. For example, assigning the identified topics to
conceptual categories of established frameworks provides an opportunity to reveal
novel insights in a certain research domain.
Application Example
Those topics that relate most positively or negatively to the perception of
organizational culture provide valuable insights for organizational research and practice.
Regarding factors that are strongly positively associated with culture perceptions, we can
identify topics referring to career options (“career opportunity”, “career development”,
“advancement opportunities”), topics referring to formal rewards (“salary raise”, “benefits”),
topics referring to the work environment (“work-life balance”, “flexibility”), and topics
referring to social aspects (“great people”, “help”). Regarding factors that are highly
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 31
negatively associated with culture perceptions, we can observe topics referring to
management (“poor management”, “management layers”), topics referring to formal rewards
(“paycheck”, “bonus”, “low wage”), topics referring to corporate aspects (“company
strategy”, “brand name”, “brain drain”), and topics referring to social aspects (“lying”,
“listening”, “employee appreciation”, “employee treatment”, “laid back atmosphere”).
Comparing topics that are positively and negatively associated with culture
perceptions shows: Employees who highly value their corporate culture emphasize career
options provided by the organization, while employees who dislike the organizational culture
point out deficits regarding social aspects of their work. These social aspects primarily
address the relevance of a respectful and open working atmosphere among employees (e.g.,
“employee appreciation”, “listening”). More surprisingly, the factor “laid back atmosphere” is
also among those social aspects with the largest relevance regarding how employees perceive
the corporate culture. At first sight, it seems rather unexpected that a “laid back atmosphere”
is negatively associated with employees’ culture perception, but the results might suggest that
employees do not appreciate a too easy-going, casual, unconstrained work environment.
Generally, these findings confirm the relevance of existing frameworks that apply to
the organizational culture level, such as the GLOBE dimensions (House, Hanges, Javidan,
Dorman, & Gupta, 2004; Jung et al., 2009), which include, for example, performance
orientation (to which topics like “bonus” and “salary raise” relate), power distance (to which
topics like “management layers” or “organizational hierarchy” relate), and humane orientation
(to which topics like “employee treatment” or “caring” relate). Other organizational culture
dimensions that our results confirm are the ones by Chatman and Jehn (1994), which include
people orientation (to which topics like “great people” or “employee appreciation” relate),
outcome orientation (to which topics like “paycheck” or “benefits” relate), and easygoingness
(to which the topic “laid back atmosphere” relates).
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 32
Yet, our findings also yield additional insights that complement prior research. For
example, previous research studied easygoingness as a neutral dimension that distinguishes
cultures across industries (Chatman & Jehn, 1994). Our findings suggest that this dimension
is negatively associated with culture. In other words, our findings provide hints regarding
desired organizational cultures in various industries and, thus, extend previous findings that
focused on a purely descriptive analysis of culture.
Examining industry-specific results in greater detail, we find that the emphasis of
topics differs across industries. To illustrate this, we differentiate again between topics that
are generally negatively or positively associated with culture perceptions. Regarding the
former, we can observe that employees from the insurance, telecommunications, and finance
sectors emphasize “lying” much more than employees from other industries. This observation
may indicate that lying negatively dominates organizational cultures in these industries.
Another example, (bad) “employee treatment”, seems to be much more severe in the sectors
“Restaurants, Bars, and Food Services”, “Retail”, and “Health Care” than in other industries,
which may indicate that companies in these sectors consider social factors less relevant for
their organizational cultures than companies in other industries. Regarding factors that are
generally positively related to how employees perceive their corporate culture, we can see, for
example, that IT sector employees emphasize “salary raise”, “career development”, and
“work-life balance” at the same time, indicating that employees from this sector value not
only career options, but also a work environment that provides flexibility. In contrast,
employees from the health care sector emphasize the factor “help”, which means they highly
appreciate a work environment where they can rely on their colleagues.
The comparison of industry differences provides insights that can support future
research in further specifying differences between organizational cultures in various industries
(Chatman & Jehn, 1994; Gordon, 1991; Phillips, 1994). Particularly, future research should
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 33
distinguish descriptive from desired culture dimensions to develop a more detailed
understanding of organizational culture profiles in different industries and derive meaningful
recommendations for culture development in practice. While aggregate analyses of
organizational culture, such as ours, can provide insights on as-is and to-be culture profiles in
specific industry sectors, they naturally only describe general tendencies of current and
desired cultures. These insights give guidance regarding what to consider in more fine-
granular examinations of organizational culture, for example, in studies that focus in-depth on
a particular organization.
The exemplary overall and industry-specific results show the potential of topic
modeling for gaining insights on organizational factors that matter to employees and their
relation to corporate culture. Overall, our topic modeling example and related analyses
provide insights on how to use this methodological approach to quantify the relation of topics
important to employees and employees’ perceptions of organizational culture. It illustrates
how to determine dimensions that require management attention and, potentially,
interventions. In broader terms, our approach shows the applicability of topic modeling to
gain insights on organizational phenomena.
Discussion
Advantages of Topic Modeling in Organizational Research
Our analysis of company reviews to identify topics that matter to employees’
perception of organizational culture serves as a first illustration of how to use topic modeling
for organizational research. We outline several advantages of this technique for organizational
research.
Compared to established organizational research methods, unsupervised topic
modeling provides specific advantages for organizational research. While the use of widely
applied methods like surveys or case studies represents a trade-off between examining large
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 34
amounts of data in a quantitative study and gaining in-depth insights through a qualitative
study (Jung et al., 2009), topic modeling covers the advantages of both, that is, it allows to
examine large amounts of qualitative, textual data. In particular, the advantage over
questionnaires, which have to date practically been the only means for large-scale
organizational assessments, is essential, because topic modeling does not require the
predefining of dimensions for an analysis. While survey research examines organizations
deductively based on predetermined scales and operationalized constructs, topic modeling
makes it possible to study inductively what employees feel to be most relevant to mention
about an organization. Therefore, topic modeling combines the benefits of quantitatively
examining culture on a large scale with the benefits of an inductive qualitative method
approach (Berente & Seidel, 2014; Tonidandel et al., 2016).
As a new methodological approach, topic modeling complements existing
organizational research methods through novel ways of gaining insights into large text
corpora. Since the main focus of topic modeling lies in inductively examining the content of
large amounts of texts, it generally supports theory building rather than theory testing, that is,
it generally supports exploratory rather than explanatory research. However, STM, as a
specific topic modeling technique, allows not only potentially new concepts to be examined,
but also the relation of emerged topics with other variables of interest (Roberts et al.).
Therefore, studies applying STM can not only explore large data sets, but also explain
relations between new and established concepts in organizational research.
Another key advantage of topic modeling over established organizational research
methods lies in the nature of the data that can be analyzed. Data such as the online reviews in
our example is generated with no research purpose; it is not created through interview
questions or questionnaires but it represents so-called “naturally occurring data” (Müller et
al., 2016) and may, thus, be less biased through social expectations that can influence data
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 35
which is created in research situations. Considering the already existing and rapidly increasing
amount of textual data that is available from various kinds of organizations, our application
example provides insights on the huge potential that topic modeling bears for organizational
research.
Apart from the methodological contribution of our approach to general organizational
research, the application example also contributes to organizational culture research in
particular. Since topic modeling has not been applied to organizational culture research
before, our application addresses the existing call for research on new ways to study culture
(Taras et al., 2009) and gives guidance to researchers on how to approach the suggested new
way to culture research. In addition, our findings provide insights with regard to factors that
influence differences in organizational culture perceptions between industries. The identified
topics that are positively and negatively related to employees’ perceptions of organizational
culture not only provide insights regarding prevailing cultures, but also regarding desired
cultures. Future research can build on these first insights by developing a more detailed
understanding of organizational culture profiles in different industries.
Limitations of Topic Modeling
While topic modeling provides many advantages for organizational research over
established organizational research methods, the approach obviously also has certain
limitations.
Topic modeling does not automatically yield new valid constructs or extracts
significant relationships at the push of a button. The algorithms used to extract topics from
textual data rather have a supporting role; in fact, researchers need to take many decisions
throughout all the steps of their study, which range, for example, from selecting appropriate
algorithms for their study purpose to interpreting and labeling topics. Thus, topic modeling
does not fully automate the identification and measurement of constructs, but requires
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 36
subjective interpretations through the researcher. For example, metrics are available that help
researchers examine the validity of the identified constructs; yet, topic identification still
requires manual coding and interpretation. As a research method, topic modeling is, therefore,
“in the middle” between rather measurement-centric quantitative and rather interpretation-
centric qualitative methods. Since the identification of constructs and their relation to other
variables is at the core of topic modeling, the method clearly contributes to addressing
research questions in exploratory research. It provides new opportunities to theorize on
established, but also on new constructs that may be identified from large text corpora. Since
large text corpora were previously not accessible for exploratory research on a large scale,
topic modeling represents a new and complementary approach to existing research methods.
Another limitation refers to the nature of the data used for topic modeling. The textual
data that serves as a basis for topic modeling most probably contains not only topics relevant
to the field of study. Since the data is typically not generated for a specific research purpose, it
very likely includes topics that are not related to the research focus. Therefore, researchers
need to explore how far the identified topics relate to their field of study. While this task may
be prone to subjective biases, such manual tasks are also typical in qualitative research and
several techniques exist to mitigate subjectivity, for example, by involving several
researchers.
Frequently, the data also comes along with potential biases, such as in online reviews,
which may be biased through potentially spurious reviews (Nan Hu, Bose, Koh, & Liu, 2012),
and which may be biased towards extreme opinions and contain only few moderate ratings
(N. Hu, Zhang, & Pavlou, 2009). Research has suggested techniques for detecting and
removing fake reviews that bias datasets, such as the elimination of duplicate reviews (Jindal
& Liu, 2008; Liu & Zhang, 2012). Utilizing such techniques, as we did in our application
example, helps researchers to mitigate potential biases in their data.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 37
Furthermore, the generalizability of the findings is limited to the data set. In our
application example, we examine data of Fortune 500 companies only, and approximately
80% of the Glassdoor visitors are from the United Statesc. Thus, our findings are limited to
these companies and geographic regions. While such limitations are typical for all types of
data analysis methods, researchers may mitigate them by triangulating the findings with
additional data.
Application Fields in Organizational Research
Topic modeling offers a broad spectrum of application possibilities in organizational
research. Considering the vast amount of textual data that is generated on a daily basis,
organizational research should leverage the potential of various types of texts for gaining
insights on organizational phenomena. While our application example used user-generated
text from an online company review platform, future research may also analyze text from
other sources, such as company-internal employee platforms or company-internal documents.
Also, research may focus on textual data beyond the corporate sphere. Social media data, for
example, but also data from daily news or research publications may represent insightful
sources for future organizational research.
Table 6 provides an overview of exemplary application fields for topic modeling that
can inspire organizational research. For example, text mining social network data may allow
one to complement insights on job attitudes and the prediction of withdrawal behavior
(Lebreton, Binning, Adorno, & Melcher, 2004). Further, organizational research may apply
topic modeling to examine both job characteristics and competence profiles, similarly to how
researchers in the information systems discipline have applied topic modeling (Gorbacheva,
Stein, Schmiedel, & Müller, 2016; Müller, Schmiedel, Gorbacheva, & vom Brocke, 2014). In
addition, organizational research may be inspired by applications in finance, where
c https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/glassdoor.com
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 38
researchers used topic modeling to extract textual risk disclosures from annual reports to
quantify their effect on the investors’ risk perceptions (Bao & Datta, 2014); and in the area of
marketing and public relations, where researchers used topic modeling for mining consumer
perceptions about brands from social media data (e.g., Pournarakis, Sotiropoulos, & Giaglis,
2017). Finally, organizational research may apply topic modeling for examining existing
literature and analyzing the development of topics over time (e.g., Blei, 2012).
Table 6 Topic modeling application examples
Type of data Data source Application fields Domain
Internal
company data
Social networks (e.g.,
Yammer)
Employee concerns, job
stress, organizational
culture
Human resources
External
company data
Job/employee
platforms (e.g.,
Monster.com;
LinkedIn.com)
Job characteristics,
competence profiles
Human resources
External
company data
Annual reports (e.g.,
Form 10-K)
Risk disclosures Finance
Public data Social media (e.g.,
Twitter, Blogs)
Brand image Marketing, Public
Relations
Research
articles
Literature databases
(e.g., EbscoHost,
Google Scholar)
Literature review All
Conclusion
The purpose of our research was to demonstrate the utility of topic modeling as a new
approach to studying organizational phenomena. We suggest embracing the methodological
advances from other fields in organizational research. While we show the advantages of topic
modeling over traditional qualitative and quantitative organizational research methods, we
argue that future research should not apply topic modeling to organizational research as an
ultimate remedy to the limitations of currently used research methods. However, future
research should consider text-mining approaches, such as topic modeling, as complementary
to well-established organizational research methods. We believe that the combination of
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 39
various techniques allows organizations to be studied from new perspectives that help to gain
novel insights into the field.
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 40
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TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 43
Appendices
Topics resulting from structural topic modeling
Topic
ID
Topic label Highly associated terms
1 Medco medco, esi, stock, employe, purchas, bla, disabl
2 Performance measurement metric, measur, perform, score, technician, scorecard, survey
3 Training train, program, agent, comput, proper, trainer, provid
4 Help help, succeed, question, alway, will, everyon, answer
5 Perks free, food, cabl, coffe, gym, drink, phone
6 Flexibility life, balanc, flexibl, great, environ, con, good
7 Organizational hierarchy corpor, ladder, larg, climb, cultur, american, headquart
8 Starbucks partner, starbuck, coffe, barista, tip, drink, store
9 Salary hike good, work, salari, hike, life, onsit, balanc
10 Employee treatment like, treat, feel, didnt, break, slave, crap
11 Benefits great, benefit, sale, commiss, leadership, chang, bank
12 Hiring hire, good, contractor, peopl, big, contract, money
13 Sales sale, product, sell, rep, commiss, custom, servic
14 General review vocabulary none, list, absolut, worst, pros, walmart, second
15 Leadership leader, leadership, industri, senior, visionari, market, substanc
16 Talent attraction/retention talent, innov, retain, attract, market, conserv, engin
17 Lying dont, know, tell, say, anyth, just, fire
18 Career development growth, career, develop, advanc, opportun, path, limit
19 Work hours hour, schedul, holiday, week, shift, day, weekend
20 Discount card card, discount, credit, maci, merchandis, store, cloth
21 Work-life balance worklif, work-lif, life, compens, balanc, work, maintain
22 Management-dependent
atmosphere
depend, upon, vari, heavili, frown, locat, may
23 Bonus rais, year, bonus, increas, annual, salari, perform
24 Store management team, member, manag, store, schedul, etl, target
25 Great people can, think, sometim, great, realli, work, cant
26 Career opportunities opportun, lot, differ, intern, career, learn, larg
27 topic indeterminate keep, happi, promis, work, chang, toe, pile
28 Software development team project, amazon, softwar, engin, team, develop, design
29 Best company best, ive, ever, one, world, buy, compani
30 Management layers layer, mani, chief, indian, tier, much, overhead
31 topic indeterminate know, job, need, someon, secur, what, peopl
32 Home office home, day, work, depot, night, hrs, week
33 Working together togeth, act, great, page, peopl, work, stack
34 Low wage pay, wage, low, decent, minimum, rais, hour
35 topic indeterminate grow, dead, weight, sale, beat, within, cdw
36 Glass ceiling blah, ceil, glass, nonsens, search, whose, pit
37 topic indeterminate filler, endur, frito, paccar, deterior, aquisit, understat
38 topic indeterminate littl, databas, harsh, extraordinarili, unmatch, jobveri, dishonesti
39 Company strategy group, direct, clear, strateg, strategi, execut, chang
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 44
40 Health benefits health, match, insur, tuition, medic, reimburs, pension
41 Full-/Part-time full, time, part, posit, spent, convert, intern
42 Apple appl, older, younger, retail, age, generat, women
43 Consulting consult, citi, live, eastman, area, san, town
44 Internship learn, lot, internship, busi, stuff, summer, gain
45 Employee supervision supervis, annoy, shock, protocol, emot, moodi, paperwork
46 Stress job, stress, easi, secur, bore, high, repetit
47 Great place to work work, great, place, fun, nice, good, con
48 Safety safeti, elev, injuri, e-mail, day, mainten, four
49 Brain drain smart, peopl, microsoft, layoff, great, cultur, polit
50 Caring care, take, employe, patient, number, good, work
51 Strategic focus focus, strategi, global, custom, cost, strong, result
52 Laid back atmosphere back, laid, stab, big, pictur, aecom, bread
53 Brand name brand, name, ibm, recognit, resum, morgan, usa
54 Listening employe, door, polici, concern, open, listen, treat
55 topic indeterminate cant, truth, will, donât, letter, dish, one
56 Barnes and Noble book, booksel, nobl, ventur, barn, joint, nook
57 Poor management manag, upper, middl, poor, senior, level, micro
58 Advancement opportunities great, advanc, room, benefit, opportun, move, environ
59 Store employees associ, store, cashier, hour, payrol, floor, guest
60 Corporate clients firm, client, booz, allen, bank, govern, advisor
61 Time vocabulary long, term, time, hour, short, period, take
62 Store managers store, manag, district, upper, payrol, assist, hour
63 Dress code dress, casual, code, space, relax, cubicl, jean
64 topic indeterminate job, told, month, week, call, day, anoth
65 Process orientation core, balanc, process, rank, level, perform, system
66 Customer service custom, servic, rude, sale, store, regist, cashier
67 Employee appreciation employe, treat, appreci, job, loyal, respect, care
68 topic indeterminate gain, experi, career, leadership, engin, role, skill
69 Paycheck money, call, day, dish, will, save, make
70 Work vocabulary work, peopl, manag, good, great, promot, employe
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 45
Culture, industry, and interaction estimates
Topics Culture
estimates*
Industry estimates* (left figure) and culture-industry interaction estimates (right figure)
Finance Healthcare Information
Technology
Insurance Manufacturing Oil, Gas, Energy
& Utilities
Restaurants, Bars
& Food Services
Retail Telecom-
munications
17 Lying -0.0074 0.0065 -0.0058 0.0015 0.0100 -0.0216 0.0048 0.0090
57 Poor management -0.0050 -0.0102 0.0024 0.0158 -0.0031 -0.0206 0.0033 -0.0181 0.0028
67 Employee
appreciation -0.0047 -0.0116 0.0021 -0.0086 -0.0107 0.0022 -0.0089 0.0018 -0.0102 0.0022
10 Employee treatment -0.0038 0.0132 -0.0022 -0.0053 0.0015 0.0588 -0.0087 0.0268 -0.0039 0.0105 -0.0020
52 Laid back
atmosphere -0.0034 -0.0092
0.0019 -0.0134 0.0028 -0.0065 0.0011 -0.0116 0.0024 -0.0082 0.0015 -0.0090 0.0021 -0.0176 0.0031 -0.0149 0.0030 -0.0116 0.0025
69 Paycheck -0.0031 0.0218 -0.0047 0.0193 -0.0034 0.0063 -0.0013 0.0097 -0.0020 -0.0095 0.0021 0.0347 -0.0073
23 Bonus -0.0028 -0.0078 0.0014 -0.0016 -0.0072 -0.0131 0.0017 -0.0219 0.0031 -0.0154 0.0021 -0.0167 0.0026
49 Brain drain -0.0027 -0.0057 -0.0118 0.0025 0.0125 -0.0091 -0.0178 0.0025 -0.0152 0.0023 -0.0098
54 Listening -0.0025 0.0085 -0.0061 0.0015 0.0091 -0.0065 0.0052
39 Company strategy -0.0020 0.0016 0.0066
-0.0135 0.0021 -0.0103 0.0017 -0.0048 0.0018
53 Brand name -0.0020 -0.0138
0.0011 -0.0216 0.0020 -0.0104 -0.0187 0.0017 -0.0116 -0.0177 -0.0223 0.0020 -0.0211 0.0018 -0.0205 0.0018
34 Low wage -0.0018 0.0093 -0.0044 0.0466 -0.0067 0.0233 0.0067
30 Management layers -0.0011 -0.0034 -0.0064 0.0047 -0.0047 -0.0083 -0.0081 0.0010 -0.0047
40 Health benefits 0.0067 0.0027 0.0106 0.0092
-0.0128 0.0021 -0.0095 0.0010 0.0074
51 Strategic focus -0.0127
-0.0152 -0.0162 -0.0059 -0.0136 -0.0206 -0.0184 -0.0151 0.0014
19 Work hours
0.0130 -0.0047 0.0063 0.0367 0.0188 0.0029 0.0021
50 Caring
0.0184 -0.0026
2 Performance
measurement
0.0103 -0.0016
5 Perks
0.0013
0.0382 -0.0034 0.0133
66 Customer service 0.0151 -0.0025 0.0151
0.0265 0.0292 -0.0013 0.0222 -0.0028
7 Organizational
hierarchy
0.0040
48 Safety
16 Talent
attraction/retention -0.0047 -0.0123 0.0056 -0.0060
-0.0134 -0.0128 -0.0098
TOPIC MODELING IN ORGANIZATIONAL RESEARCH 46
15 Leadership 0.0036 -0.0048
45 Employee
supervision
36 Glass ceiling
20 Discount card
0.0225
33 Working together
32 Home office
-0.0041 -0.0051
3 Training
0.0049 0.0105
22
Management-
dependent
atmosphere
41 Full-/Part-time
63 Dress code
65 Process orientation
46 Stress 0.0079 0.0196 0.0059
12 Hiring
-0.0017 0.0051 -0.0015 -0.0019 -0.0017 -0.0026 -0.0038 -0.0013
58 Advancement
opportunities 0.0025
0.0016 0.0044 0.0028
0.0044 0.0055 0.0033
4 Help 0.0025 0.0116 0.0039
25 Great people 0.0038 0.0016 0.0063
11 Benefits 0.0038 0.0081 0.0022 0.0050 0.0095 0.0045
6 Flexibility 0.0040 0.0048 -0.0018 -0.0013 -0.0011
21 Work-life balance 0.0040 -0.0023 0.0058 -0.0029 -0.0030 -0.0018
18 Career development 0.0050 0.0059 -0.0030 -0.0021 0.0023
-0.0041 -0.0027
9 Salary raise 0.0058 -0.0034
-0.0059 -0.0033 0.0195 -0.0044 0.0055 -0.0030 0.0075 -0.0033 -0.0061 -0.0057 -0.0050 -0.0030
26 Career opportunities 0.0089
-0.0030 -0.0084 -0.0028 0.0066 -0.0035 -0.0027 -0.0064 -0.0074 -0.0052 -0.0067 -0.0060 -0.0028
* bold font = significant at 0.001 level, normal font = significant at 0.01 or 0.05 level, italic font = significant at 0.1 level, missing value = not significant
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