To William Shakespeare, brevity was the soul of wit.
For scientists, it may be even more valuable, as conciseness seems to
correlate with how frequently a research paper is cited.

Letchford and his colleagues at the University of Warwick in Coventry,
UK, analysed the titles of 140,000 of the most highly cited
peer-reviewed papers published between 2007 and 2013 as listed on Scopus,
a research-paper database. They compared the lengths of the papers’
titles with the number of times each paper was cited by other
peer-reviewed papers— a statistic sometimes used as a crude measure of

As they report in Royal Society Open Science1, “journals which publish papers with shorter titles receive more citations per paper”.

impetus for the current study came from a desire to pen better papers,
says Letchford, and to see whether good writing is rewarded in research.
“As scientists, we’re all cursed,” when it comes to writing, Letchford
says, as researchers hone their specialised knowledge but often cannot
explain themselves to readers outside their own field.

Journal factors

Previous research has come to conflicting conclusions on the link between title length and citations2, 3.
And Letchford admits that their paper is merely a 'proof of concept'
that does not show that shorter titles lead to more citations.

Among the possible confounding factors is that not all journals have the same standards for title lengths. Papers published in Science,
which average more than 30 citations, are limited to titles of 90
characters, whereas the Public Library of Science journals, where papers
generally attract fewer citations, allow up to 250. To account for some
of these differences, Letchford also compared the number of citations
for papers published in the same journal and found that the pattern held

Title length and citations appear to correlate.
However, Letchford and his team did not
investigate the possible effect of factors such as subject matter,
seniority of authorship or other aspects of a paper that affect its
citation rate. John Mingers, a bibliometrician at the University of
Kent's business school in Canterbury, UK, says that even if there is a
relationship between title length and frequency of citation, a more
rigorous analysis might have found the importance of that association to
be very slight. There might simply be more citations in fields where it
is standard to write shorter titles, for example. “They have used a
large dataset, which is good, but there are problems, and what you can
conclude from these results is very limited,” he says.

Shorter is sweeter

of whether they influence citations, clear, tightly constructed titles
are in authors’ best interests, says Karl Ziemelis, Nature’s
chief physical sciences editor, as they can improve the chances of a
paper being discovered by readers and encourage them not to pass it
over. “I find that snappier ones catch my attention more,” agrees Meghan
Byrne, a senior editor at PLoS One.

Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at Stanford University in California, who
studies scientific publishing, says the work is “a cute paper, but I
don’t really trust the results to be conclusive”.

adds, “I will continue to struggle finding appropriate titles for my
papers without worrying about whether the title length may affect their

But the study has already
influenced at least one piece of writing. Given their findings,
Letchford says that the research team spent quite some time on naming
their paper.

“After all that, we thought, ‘we’d better give it a good title,’” he says.

They chose "The advantage of short paper titles".