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Article titles: the dos and don'ts

Article titles: the dos and don’ts

 

Selecting a good title for this article seemed much more important than usual so we hesitated for quite some time to find one that might set a good example. If you have any feedback, please see links below!

So, how did we eventually decide on this heading?

Choosing a title – ours as an example

Firstly, we wrote down the topic: article titles.

Next, we thought about the purpose of the article: explaining what to do and what not to do when selecting an article title.

Finally, we used statistics from previous studies to format the title with a colon.

Charlesworth Author Services published an article last year about the importance of selecting a good title for your research paper, and it is such an important topic that we decided to publish another one to discuss some recent research on the matter. To see our previous article, please visit http://cwauthors.com/article/ChoosingTitleAcademicResearchPaper.

It goes without saying that the title is the first thing that readers will see: journals will use it to judge whether the article is likely to be a viable submission and researchers will use it to judge whether the article will be useful to read. Recently, however, studies have confirmed quite how important titles really are.

Findings from Research Trends

Over the course of five years (2006–2010), Research Trends conducted a study on the impact of titles on the success of research articles.[1]

It was found that the length of the title did not correlate entirely to the number of citations, but that “papers with titles between 31 and 40 characters were cited the most”.[2]

Interestingly, results of the study also showed that “titles containing a comma or colon were cited more” than those containing a question mark.[3] By contrast, of the articles included in the study, the top 10 most cited contained no punctuation at all.

Findings from Research Excellence Framework

A more recent study based on 150,000 papers submitted to the Research Excellence Framework database in 2014 corroborated many of the earlier findings. For example, “citations increased with titles that used colons, and declined with the use of question marks”.[4]

The report, published in Scientometrics, was also examined in Nature Index. Analyses suggest that title length is affected by subject area, and so longer titles are more acceptable in certain fields, namely Public Health and Clinical Medicine, while in other disciplines there are, on average, fewer characters in a title: Philosophy, Economics.[5]

Both the above studies found that humorous titles were cited less, so there is no need to agonize over a pun to attract readers.

Expert advice

According to BioScience Writers, some journals may only consider the title and abstract when selecting articles for publication. So, to create a positive impression titles should contain the following three elements:[6]

1.       Key words and key phrases: Describe the topic of your article so that it can be found when searching by

           subject.

2.       Emphasis: Clarify the most important features of your article.

3.       Impact: Draw readers’ attention to your article by explaining how your results or methods are novel or

           innovative.

 

Similarly, Columbia University advises researchers to be specific in their titles, and claims that outlining the results is sometimes more effective: “Students who smoke get lower grades”.[7]

Summary points on choosing a title:

·         Try to create a clear and concise title

·         Reflect on title length of articles which are highly cited in your field of research

·         Include novel or innovative results or methods

·         If your title requires punctuation to aid reader understanding, consider using a colon or commas

·         Avoid using question marks and semi-colons

·         Avoid humor

Ultimately, however, as all cited resources mention, a good title cannot compensate for a poor paper! What it can do, though, is help to promote all your hard work by promoting the content of your paper and drawing in readers.

Resources:

Please see the following websites for more information about the studies and for further advice on writing article titles:

·         http://cwauthors.com/article/ChoosingTitleAcademicResearchPaper

·         https://www.researchtrends.com/issue24-september-2011/heading-for-success-or-how-not-to-title-your-paper/

·         http://www.natureindex.com/news-blog/how-research-paper-titles-can-make-or-break

·         http://www.columbia.edu/cu/biology/ug/research/paper.html

 

Additional help and support

Any questions? Charlesworth Author Services can advise you on your editing needs. Please contact us at asktheeditors@cwauthors.com or helpdesk@cwauthors.com.