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Size Matters for Academic Papers

Scientific papers with shorter titles gain more citations, according to a statistical analysis of 140,000 papers published in Royal Society Open Science. The study examined the 20,000 most cited papers each year from 2007 to 2013, with titles ranging from one to 55 words, and analysed whether the length of paper titles bore any relationship to the paper’s success.

“Our analysis suggests that papers with shorter titles do receive more citations,” said Dr Adrian Letchford of Warwick Business School. “Some journals attract more citations than others, and when we control for the journal in which a paper is published the strength of the relationship is reduced, but it is still significant.” For example, in 2011 each character added onto a paper’s title reduced the number of citations by approximately 1.8%.

“One potential explanation is that high impact journals might restrict the length of their papers’ titles, or that shorter titles may be easier to understand, enabling wider readership and increasing the influence of a paper,” Letchford said..

“Ultimately research quality and intrinsic significance should have the most impact on a paper’s success. However, our findings provide evidence that elements of the style in which a paper is written may also relate to the number of times it is cited.”

Co-author Dr Suzy Moat added: “Our previous work has focused on analysing data from sources such as Google, Wikipedia and Flickr to predict and measure human behaviour in the real world. These results show that analysing how scientists communicate can uncover interesting behavioural patterns too.”