Shorter Titles Not Always Better for Citations

Researchers find that scientific papers with shorter titles accrue more citations only if they are very popular. For papers flying under the radar, longer titles fare better.

Jun 22, 2016
Jef Akst

WIKIMEDIA, CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHER/MODIn contrast to previous findings that scientific papers with short titles receive more citations, a new study of more than 4 million papers suggests that this pattern only holds true for the most-cited papers. For papers that are less popular, having a longer title was associated with more citations.

The study, published today (June 22) in Royal Society Open Science, also analyzed other textual characteristics in titles and abstracts that might help scientists boost their citation rates. Number of authors and the length and complexity of the abstract, for example, had a strong positive influence on citations, but these and other factors again affected top papers differently than less widely read ones.

“Altogether, our results indicate that textual properties of title and abstract have non-trivial effects in the processes leading to the attribution of citations,” Julian Sienkiewicz and Eduardo Altmann of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden, Germany, wrote in their paper. “In particular, the effect varies significantly between papers with the usual number of citations and with a large number of citations.”