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Stats Science

Scientific Papers With Shorter Titles Get More Citations 87

sciencehabit writes: Articles with shorter titles tend to get cited more often than those with longer headers, concludes a study published today, which examined 140,000 papers published between 2007 and 2013. It appears in the journal Royal Society Open Science. Citations are a key currency in the academic world. The number of times other researchers cite a scientist’s work is often an important metric in hiring and workplace evaluations. Citations also play a role in determining a journal’s place in the scholarly pecking order, with journals that publish more highly cited papers earning a higher “impact factor” (although many critics challenge that measure).
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Scientific Papers With Shorter Titles Get More Citations

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  • The title of my next paper.

  • Yes (Score:5, Informative)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday August 26, 2015 @02:47AM (#50393331) Journal
    Oh, maybe that's because algorithmically generated papers [slate.com] tend to generate long titles.

    Check out the generated phrases here [snarxiv.org].
    • Algorithmically generated papers try to imitate what's generated by legitimate writers. If people were to mostly write papers with short titles, it would be a tad harder to hide the voidness of meaning in titles any person could understand :)

  • Causation? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Wednesday August 26, 2015 @02:54AM (#50393345) Journal

    The more niche your research topic, the longer the title has to be to describe it, and correspondingly the fewer people will be interested. Compare, for example, "A New Hierarchy of Phylogenetic Models Consistent with Heterogeneous Substitution Rates" with "The Origin of Chemical Elements". While one will be much more cited that the other, the reason isn't the title length.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by golodh ( 893453 )
      Yes, agreed. I think you've spotted that one.

      The shorter your title the more general your subject.In that case, if your article has something useful to say it's interesting to a wider audience so you end up with more citations.

    • Good one, I had another idea for the causation of these numbers, but yours seems better.
    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      On the other hand: The most cited papers are those that describe some research method, which is often highly specialized, e.g. some test, some experiment, some analysis method. But if you use their methodology in your paper, you cite them because they describe in detail what you are doing. If you are doing some gene manipulation, you will cite some papers which describe how to detect and isolate genes. If you are doing geology, you will cite some papers about how to determine the age of stones. If you are c
    • If you're a newbie in a field you may feel the need to use a jargony title to get noticed by editors. If you're a big name it may not matter.

      • I have to agree here. There is a reason why scientists tend to keep names pretty simple, like Big Bang, Black Hole, x Dwarf, x Giant etc. Title should communicate a short overview, but one should keep in mind the range of people who would be interested in reading it. In the end what matters is if you communicated the entirety of the information correctly.
    • The more niche your research topic, the longer the title has to be to describe it,

      Indeed - see A meta-analysis of synergies between urso-sylvanian scatology, denominational alignment of the Holy See and the role of constipation in the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. by Capt O. B. Vios (2001).

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah I've got a feeling a paper entitled "P = NP" would be cited a lot.

    • I wonder about that. Most fields are niche fields and you can write a short title in a niche field because the papers are generally pitched at others in your field. A while ago I changed sub-fields (not even fields) and I had learn a whole new jargon and culture to make sense of the papers.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      After reading the article, and the shortest titles, another possibility occurred to me: reviews and meta-analyses are more likely to be cited and are more likely to have shorter titles. It's well-established that they are more likely to be cited; I suspect the second part is also true.

      The "prions" paper that they discuss, for example, is a review. People are probably more likely to cite a review because it covers so much ground.

      This is sort of a variant of what you're saying about niche versus broad papers,

  • ... seams to fall in the same category as the paper at hand, i.e. causality vs correlation.


  • Maybe scientists make their titles too long when they don't yet really understand what they are talking about. Which is why you are doing research on it, when they do fully understand the're able to decide on a better title. This also helps others to read the article more easily.
    • by gwolf ( 26339 )

      If you have been researching for years on the mating habits of the Papuan purple-eyed spider, finding the differences between their behaviour and that of other spider genii, you would surely include that description as part of your title — It would not be responsible to make others think the article is general when it deals with a very specific variety.

      (please note that the example is entirely fictional and I know zero about spiders or biological taxonomy)

  • I RTFA and it's crap (Score:4, Interesting)

    by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Wednesday August 26, 2015 @04:46AM (#50393581) Journal

    There's a figure which shows this supposed correlation. It is AMAZINGLY weak and looks like it's biased by a couple of short titled, very highly cited papers.

    Most of the paper length/citation counts form a nice uniform blob in the middle of the graph.

    • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Wednesday August 26, 2015 @04:52AM (#50393595) Journal

      Bad form to self-reply, but if you want another paper (unpublished?) which analyses what's likely to get a paper accepted, there's this one which is hilarious and sadly all too true:

      http://vision.ucsd.edu/sites/d... [ucsd.edu]âZ

    • by hnwombat ( 172691 ) on Wednesday August 26, 2015 @06:19AM (#50393815)

      Yes, exactly. the R squared (variance explained) is tiny. So, yeah, the effect is there, but it's unimportant (and, as you point out, skewed by outliers). There's no assessment of normality of the data (it pretty clearly isn't), which also affects the validity of the results. And, finally, when you have a very large sample size, getting a "significant" result is very easy (20,000 data points is a very large sample size, for statistical purposes). Honestly, with 20,000 data points, I could "prove" pretty much any theory I chose about that data.

      Many confounding explanations for the small correlation are ignored that might also have eliminated the observed correlation.

      FWIW, I have a PhD, I do this stuff for a living. I got a "significant" result for one of my theories that had an R-squared of 7%. While I of course reported the significance, I also pointed out that it was of no real consequence, and probably due to sample size rather than a real relationship. Especially with the problems of Popper-style hypothesis testing, one should be very careful about what one reports as "real" connections.

  • I hope that in general papers with less bullshit get more citations.
  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Wednesday August 26, 2015 @05:14AM (#50393639)
    My next paper will be called "?".
  • Perhaps people who write more citable papers tend to prefer more concise titles.
  • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
    I wonder if it applies to forum comments as well... Let's find out!
    • I wonder if it applies to forum comments as well... Let's find out!


      • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
        Nope. Looks like it's bunk, which is the result I would have been hoping for given how sketchy some of the work in the paper is.
  • Or maybe it's a case of tl;dr
  • Comments with shorter subjects get more replies.

    Filter error: You can type more than that for your subject


  • My experience is that the exact opposite is true. If you look at the papers that receive most citations in a researcher's profile, it's usually the ones that are longer, have many keywords in them and thus receive more hits from search engines.

    • Done properly though, keywords is separate from the title. Also, there might be researcher bias - the longer titles from a particular researcher are cited more, but researchers that tend towards concise titles tend to be cited far more often.

      • keywords is separate from the title

        I'm not talking about keywords defined in the paper, I'm talking about keywords in the title.

        • Perhaps, but if you set your paper up correctly, for search engine purposes you can have your keywords be separate from the title. Thus allowing you to have a concise title that still shows up in the appropriate searches.

  • "Shorter titles mean more citations"

  • I covered this ages ago in my oft-cited paper "Science FTW".

  • Goto Considered Harmful

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun