This study adopted a bibliometric approach to trace the diachronic changes in the metadiscourse research, based on the research articles and their unique references retrieved from the web of science (WOS) core collections from 1980-2020. CiteSpace software was employed to conduct a co-citation analysis to investigate the common themes, the developmental stages, as well as the landmark publications of this domain in the last four decades. Twelve major themes (represented by clusters) were identified; studies in these clusters progressed through three developmental stages, namely: the conceptualizing stage, the maturing stage, and the flourishing stage. Three key transformative studies were identified which contribute to ushering in the developmental stage. The use of structural variation analysis in reaching these findings helped to solve the heavy reliance on co-citation analysis. Our analysis identified unique features in the trajectory of metadiscourse research which can contribute to the deconstruction of the development of scientific fields.
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