If you’re looking to cure your insomnia, try reading a scientific journal. If jargon, confusing abbreviations, statistics, and rampant use of the passive tone doesn’t put you to sleep, who knows what will. The typical excuse for why scientific studies are so poorly written is that they’re produced for experts—there’s just not enough time or space to provide all the necessary background information for a novice.
Well, it turns out that even scientists themselves can’t understand a lot of the techno-babble. A new analysis of 140,000 papers suggests that studies with shorter titles are cited more often by other scientists, and according to the authors, it may be because these papers are easier to comprehend.
In the world of science, citations are the main marker of success. When you publish a paper that a lot of researchers refer back to, it indicates your paper broke some new ground.
This study (economically named “The advantage of short paper titles”) analyzed the 20,000 most cited papers from each of the years 2007 to 2013. For each year, the data showed that shorter-titled papers got more attention.
The situation gets more complicated, though, when you take journal rankings into account. Papers published in more prestigious journals tend to get more citations. Once the authors controlled for that factor, the correlation between shorter titles and higher citations only held up for the years 2007 to 2010. But the results do show that, overall, journals that publish papers with shorter titles tend to receive more citations per paper.
Previous studies have been inconclusive about the relationship between title length and popularity. One found no relation, while another found that longer titles receive more citations. The authors of this study say that their findings are more decisive because they analyzed a much larger sample of papers.