Publish (with a short title) or perish

If you want to get your paper cited, give it a short title! This is a conclusion from a paper published last week in Royal Society of Open Science.


Those of us who pursue a career in academia experience the publication pressure every day and strain our mental muscles to write as many papers as possible. After all the work we put in each paper, things can anyway go wrong. There is quite a big chance that our paper will never get cited. If you look at the data, it is immediately clear that the number of citations per paper decreases each year. This is visible in every science field. For example, an average paper in neuroscience was cited 37.86 in year 2002 but only 0.57 times in 2012! No wonder that we try to come up with tricks and strategies to be noticed.
In a search for an answer for this burning question, scientist from University of Warwick, checked whether scientific papers with shorter titles receive higher number of citations. To do so they looked at 20 000 paper published each year between 2007 and 2013 and could show a relation between the title length and paper success. Does this really mean that this trick works?

Well, not exactly. Authors went a step further and showed that this relation strongly depends on the journal publishing your data. It seems that journals which publish papers with shorter titles tend to have higher citation rates. This could mean that high impact journals require that authors come up with short titles. It can also mean that sexy, novel research can be easily titled with a short catchy title while tedious replication studies receive longer titles and get publish in low impact journals.

It is true that scientific papers tend to receive long titles, some of them resembling short abstract rather than a title, e.g.: The nucleotide sequence of a 3.2 kb segment of mitochondrial maxicircle DNA from Crithidia fasciculata containing the gene for cytochrome oxidase subunit III, the N-terminal part of the apocytochrome b gene and a possible frameshift gene; further evidence for the use of unusual initiator triplets in trypanosome mitochondria. In contrast to the ‘short title hypothesis’, this paper was cited 38 times. One way or the other, it will do no harm if with my next publication I will try to come up with a short catchy title.

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