After comparing the length of 20,000 scientific paper titles with the number of times other scientists cited them, researchers determined that brevity is best.
When it comes to communicating ideas, brevity is all the rage. Take a look at Twitter, which allows just 140 characters to speak your piece. Now scientists, it seems, could learn a lesson from the power of the tweet. Because a new study shows that scientific papers with shorter titles receive more citations. The article, tidily entitled “The advantage of short paper titles,” is in the Royal Society journal Open Science. [Adrian Letchford, Helen Susannah Moat, Tobias Preis, The advantage of short paper titles]
This is Scientific American’s 60-Second Science. I’m Karen Hopkin. Got a minute?
Scientific careers can be made or waylaid on the basis of publications. And the success of individual articles is often determined by how frequently those papers are referenced in other publications. But what makes a paper popular?
Previous studies of the length of an article’s title have yielded mixed findings, perhaps due to relatively small sample sizes. So researchers decided to cast a wider net. Fishing in an academic database called Scopus, they pulled out the most highly cited 20,000 papers for each of the seven years from 2007 to 2013.
And they found that papers with terser titles top the citation count. Even when the researchers took into account the journal in which the publication appeared—some have stricter restrictions on title length than do others—the findings held true.
Of course title length isn’t everything. The article’s content and subject area obviously attract different levels of interest. But a snappy title can’t hurt. I mean, which would you rather read, an article from The Journal of Immunology with the title:
Or a related article from the journal Cell Death and Differentiation simply called:
You, me and John Donne will probably pick the short and quick.
Thanks for the minute! For Scientific American’s 60-Second Science, I’m Karen Hopkin.
[The above text is a transcript of this video.]
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