What does the title of a scientific publication mean?

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What is the meaning of a correctly chosen title of a scientific publication? Is a well-formulated title reflected in the dissemination of a work that may lead to more citations? Does the length of the name matter? The above questions may not seem very important, however, there is a lot of space in the literature and research is available.

Numerous publications seem to compete for the reader’s attention when searching scientific databases. An appropriate title is therefore important for a potential beneficiary, who often only decides on the basis of this criterion whether the publication is of interest [1]. Therefore, it is worth trying to attract the title and encourage to read the whole work. The manuals recommend mentioning relevant information and statements in the title with reference to the main discovery described in the publication and giving the title a provocative formulation or form of the question [1, 2].

And what about the length of the headline? Many magazine editors require the use of short titles to gain more interest in the work [3, 4]. In 2012, a study containing 423 original scientific papers from the open journals of two publishers: BioMed Central and the Public Library of Science was published in the journal „Clinics“ [3]. It turned out that articles with a shorter title are cited more often. The authors of the study explain this by the attractiveness of short titles, because long ones seem boring and complicated. If the reader does not understand the title, there is little chance that he will read the abstract, and therefore – that he will read the entire content of the work. The researchers also noticed that publications containing a reference to a geographical name or a question mark in the title received fewer citations. A similar relationship between title length and number of citations has been reported by researchers in the Royal Society of Open Science [4]. The study included 140,000 scientific papers from 2007-2013, indexed in the Scopus database. The authors selected 20,000 of the most cited publications each year. The study confirmed that works with short titles are cited more often. The authors state that one of the possible reasons for this dependence is the limitation of the length of the title by prestigious magazines.

Is it possible to operate the self-winding wheel? The editors of prestigious scientific journals force their authors to use apt titles so that the publication has a better chance of being noticed and quoted, which also affects the prestige of the journal. At the same time, prestigious journals are cited more often because they publish groundbreaking research that is more attractive to scientists and has a chance to get more citations. And because the publisher stores short titles, research shows that such works are cited more often and editors gain justification for their demands on this seemingly unimportant issue.

The problem of using a question mark at the end of the title was investigated in a 2009 article that appeared in Scientometrics [5]. The study included 20 million scientific papers published over 40 years in journals indexed in the Scopus database. It has been found that asking the title of characters is gaining in popularity. As one explanation for this trend, the authors cite an increasing number of papers presenting results that researchers are not 100% sure about, and publish them for reasons of competitiveness in the scientific community – those who do not publish disappear (publish or perish). The use of a question in the title is a safeguard in case the conclusions drawn from the study turn out to be drawn too quickly.

It is definitely worth trying to include words in the title that a potential reader can search in scientific databases to find a job on a given topic. Choosing the right keywords will increase your chances of appearing in your search results.