Size matters for science paper writers, study finds

August 26, 2015
Credit: Petr Kratochvil/Public Domain

Short really is sweet when it comes to scientific paper titles, according to researchers looking for the secret to academic stardom.

A succinct title made a study more likely to be cited by fellow academics—the gold standard for measuring its reach, the British team wrote in a study published Wednesday by the Royal Society Open Science journal.

"These results are consistent with the intriguing hypothesis that papers with shorter titles may be easier to understand," and thus more eye-catching, according to researchers from the data science lab at Britain's Warwick Business School.

The study itself was entitled: "The advantage of short paper titles"—a terse offering in the verbose world of .

More common are such tongue-twisters such as: "Compartmentalization of membrane trafficking, glucose transport, glycolysis, actin, tubulin and the proteasome in the Hermes Body of epididymal sperm b", the title of another paper carried by the same publishing group.

To illustrate the "short is sweet" phenomenon, researcher Adrian Letchford offered a tale of two studies published in 2010 in the prestigious journal Science.

"The role of particle morphology in interfacial energy transfer in CDSE/CDS heterostructure nanocrystals," was cited 68 times, and "A draft sequence of the neandertal genome" 700 times.

The researchers waded through some 140,000 papers, focusing on those most-cited between 2007 and 2013, with titles ranging from one to 55 words.

They found a strong correlation between the length of a paper's title and the number of times it was quoted by fellow scientists.

"In 2011, each character added onto a paper's title had a tendency to reduce the number of citations by approximately 1.78 percent," said Letchford.

But he argued there was also a risk in excessive economy of words.

"My colleagues and I could have called it 'Paper Titles', or if we were really bold, 'Titles,'" Letchford said of the team's own study.

"But this really doesn't help anyone to understand what the paper is about," he added. "A might be better off with a title that is short as well as informative."

Letchford stressed that ultimately, "a piece of research's quality and intrinsic significance should have the most impact on its success."

But previous studies have shown that an author's reputation, the prestige of the journal, the field of study and the use of a colon in the title can also play a role in whether it succeeds or fails.

Explore further: Stanford trio explore success formula for Reddit posts

More information: The Advantage of Short Paper Titles, Royal Society Open Science, rsos.royalsocietypublishing.or … /10.1098/rsos.150266

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5 / 5 (6) Aug 26, 2015
"These results are consistent with the intriguing hypothesis that papers with shorter titles may be easier to understand,"

Is this surprising? Longer titles mean the paper is more specialized (and hence will be relevant to a smaller audience of scientists). The titles aren't chosen at random by scientists. They are supposed to convey what the paper is about. If it ISN'T about a general method/feature/class of problems then having a short (read: general) title would be wrong (also because in contrast those few who ARE looking for very specific information would not find the paper using indexing services).
5 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2015
"Shorter titles: More citations"
1 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2015
I don't think this is a huge problem for the researchers. Title? Really? Catchy titles are for marketers. The bigger problem lays on a grammar errors as scientists do not have enough writing skills. During my research of writing services at I found that most of the customers at essay writing services are people connected to science as they need some help. As a result they order a manuscript editing or ever rewriting. So here is the issue.
Sep 01, 2015
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