Is science a laughing matter? That could mean a lot of things, I guess, but one place the question gets raised is around the construction of titles for scientific papers. Is it OK for a title to be funny?
I’ve had a longstanding (but admittedly weird) interest in the issue of humour and beauty in scientific writing. Not much gets written about that (except by me), but one place there’s just a little bit of literature is where humour intersects with the construction of titles. That’s in part because titles are important, and in part because the availability of easily-extracted data connecting titles with citation rates has given birth to something of a cottage industry in trying to associate features of titles with high or low citation fates of the papers in question. For title features suitable for automated scoring, like length, lots of data and analyses are available. But humour isn’t like that. This lack of data doesn’t stop authors of writing guides from advising against humour in titles (not mine, of course, but this one, and this one, and this one, for instance). How good is this advice? Continue reading
If you want your scientific papers to be read and cited, you have to give them good titles. Right? This statement seems utterly uncontroversial – after all, the entire function of a title is to inform and attract readers; and the title is the first piece of your paper a prospective reader will see. It’s not uncommon for someone to make a decision to read a paper (or, more likely, not to read it) based on just a few seconds spent skimming a title or a long list of titles. So good titles matter. Right?
It’s not hard to find strong opinions about what makes a title “good”. Continue reading
I’ve mentioned this before: I’m terrible at titles. That’s why there’s been a long series of title changes for my forthcoming book. (Look for it in March 2020, from Yale University Press. You can actually pre-order it now, but don’t worry, I’ll remind you as the publication date approaches.) The book tells some of the fascinating stories behind eponymous scientific names (that is, species and genera that are named after people). If that piques your interest, you can read a bit more about the book here.
I took at least four stabs at a title before settling on Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels. Continue reading
Image: You know what you’re walking into. © Gary J. Wood via flicrk.com, CC BY-SA 2.0
This is a joint post (argument and rejoinder) from Steve Heard and Simon Leather. You can find it on either of their blogs.
Should a paper title tell you what the paper is about? Yes, but not the way Simon thinks.
Steve opens with – A few weeks ago, Simon Leather blogged about one of his writing pet peeves: “titles of papers that give you no clue as to what the paper is about”. I read this with great interest, for a couple of reasons – first, Simon is consistently thoughtful; and second, I’m terrible at titles and need to learn as much about good ones as I can! Much to my surprise, I found myself disagreeing strongly, and Simon was kind enough to engage with me in this joint post.
I don’t mean that I disagree that a paper’s title should tell you what it’s about. That’s exactly what a good title does! My disagreement is, I think, more interesting. Simon offered some examples of titles he scored as failing his tell-you-what-it’s-about criterion, and some he scored as passing. I found myself scoring those examples exactly the opposite way: the ones that failed for him, succeeded for me; and vice versa.
What gives? Well, most likely, I’m just wrong. Continue reading