In a study published earlier this year, John Hudson assessed the characteristics of >155,500 titles from journal articles submitted in the UK’s 2014 Research Evaluation Framework (the REF). Specifically, Professor Hudson examined the impact of multiple authorship on various aspects of the title and their impact on citations.
According to the paper, citations significantly decline with title length in certain disciplines including clinical medicine, biology and physics. While using a question mark in a journal paper’s title was also associated with a reduction in the number of citations it received, the use of a colon tended to improve the citations received by a paper. As an example, the author establishes that for Clinical Medicine, doubling the title length and using a question mark reduces the number of citations by 15.9 and 19.0, respectively. Consistent with previous studies, Hudson also found that papers with multiple authorship tended to receive higher citation rates, but numerous authors also led to longer titles.
The advantage of short paper titles has been noted previously, and various explanations proposed. For example, high-impact journals might restrict title length, incremental research might be published under longer titles in less prestigious journals, or shorter titles may be easier to understand, enabling wider readership and increasing the influence of a paper.
Professor Hudson surmises that increasing title length may be the result of having to expand the title to reflect the views of numerous authors. However, multiple authorship may bring specific gains, as academics with differing expertise combine to do research they would find difficult to do alone.