The Effect of Profanity and Quality on Perceived Review Helpfulness and Purchase Intentions

Project Abstract

This research project explores the effect of profanity usage and writing quality on the perceived helpfulness of online customer reviews and customers’ purchase intentions. Customer reviews have become increasingly important in recent years, with more than 205 million total customer reviews submitted to Yelp. Topics related to customer reviews are valence (positive or negative), quality (high or low), and profanity (present or absent). While previous research has connected some of these topics, the moderating effect of profanity on review quality is scarce. We currently understand that negative reviews containing profanity are seen as less useful and that positive reviews containing profanity are more useful (Hair and Ozcan 2018). We also understand that high-quality reviews are generally seen as more helpful than low-quality reviews (Korfiatis et al. 2012). Our goal is to link the use of profanity to the quality of writing in online customer reviews in order to expand the scope of this area of research. We expect that readers will find low-quality negative reviews containing profanity less helpful, high-quality negative reviews containing profanity more helpful, and high-quality reviews containing profanity more helpful. Furthermore, we expect a neutral effect from low quality positive reviews containing profanity. In our controlled, 2 × 2 × 2 experimental design, we will test these relationships using samples of our own design in a questionnaire distributed through Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). These samples will be approximately 200 characters each (“2018 ReviewTrackers” 2018). Measures include helpfulness, objectivity, credibility, diagnosticity, and purchase intentions. We will run manipulation checks for all three of our manipulations, as well as collect some demographic data. We hope to identify a three-way interaction between profanity, quality, and valence. Our research may provide further insight into what makes an effective customer review. Therefore, we believe this research will provide practical applications for platforms that host customer reviews, such as offering better guidelines to users to enable them to write better reviews that may result in increased purchase intentions from readers.

Funding Type

Research Grant

Academic College

Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology


Area: Marketing; Major: Journalism; Minors: Media Production, Japanese






Ismail Karabas, Ph.D.

Academic College

Jesse D. Jones College of Science, Engineering and Technology

Review Quality, Profanity, and Valence Study.docx (201 kB)
This is our study as approved by the MSU IRB.

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