The title is arguably one of the most important elements of a manuscript. However, is short and sweet always best?
Data is not gathered just for the gain of a single person—scientific research articles are meant to be shared and to be used for the benefit of other people. However, an article’s title often influences whether or not the research gets read in the first place. By evaluating the effectiveness of titles, editors play a vital role in determining how much attention an article receives. While the traditional rule of thumb for writers and editors is to keep scientific titles concise, research shows that this may not be the best editorial practice.
In the article “Are Shorter Article Titles More Attractive for Citations? Cross-sectional Study of 22 Scientific Journals,” Farrokh Habibzadeh and Mahboobeh Yadollahie (2010) discuss this “short and sweet” rule of thumb and observe that there is little empirical evidence to support its effectiveness. So to determine if articles with short titles really do receive more attention, they performed a cross-sectional study of over 9,000 scientific articles from 22 journals. The researchers chose to compare the lengths of the titles to the number of times the article was cited in other journals, which reflects whether other professionals are reading and using the research. After producing a regression line of the results, the researchers determined that from this selection of scientific articles, those with longer titles were associated with having more citations than those with short titles.
The two researchers concluded that although this study cannot accurately predict the amount of attention an article will receive based solely on the title, the practice of using concise titles may not always be the best way to go. Based on this research, using a title with fewer words may reduce the number of citations an article receives.
As Habibzadeh and Yadollahie suggest, rather than focusing on the length of the title, we should “write titles that best communicate the results of the research presented in the article” (169). While this study cannot prove that a long title will give your article more attention, it does show a positive correlation between the two in the articles analyzed. Perhaps it’s time that scientific research articles deviate from the common practice of using concise titles. As editors, we can stray away from placing a word count on titles to open up our authors and their research to more recognition and use.
To learn more about writing effective titles for scientific studies, read the full article:
Farrokh Habibzadeh and Mahboobeh Yadollahie. 2010. “Are Shorter Article Titles More Attractive for Citations? Cross-sectional Study of 22 Scientific Journals.” Croatian Medical Journal 51, no. 2 (April): 165–70. https://doi.org/10.3325/cmj.2010.51.165.
—Sky Gallagher, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY YAROSLAV SHURAEV
Find more research
Find out more about writing titles in Deborah Bowman and Stephanie Kinnan’s article: “Creating Effective Titles for Your Scientific Publications.” VideoGIE: An Official Video Journal of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy 3 (9): 260–61. doi:10.1016/j.vgie.2018.07.009
Take a look at Lorin Hurley’s Editing Research article to read more technical writing tips: “Unmasking the Nature of Technical Writing.”