Size matters when it comes to academic papers

01 September 2015

  • Short paper titles have an advantage
  • 140,000 papers analysed in largest study of its type
  • In 2011 each character reduced citations by 1,8%
  • Data analysis provides new insight of scientists behaviour

Scientific papers with shorter titles gain more citations, new research has found.

A statistical analysis of 140,000 papers found that the length of a paper's title can be related to the number of citations it receives.

Adrian Letchford, Suzy Moat and Tobias Preis, of Warwick Business School’s Data Science Lab and part of the Behavioural Science group, analysed whether the length of paper titles bore any relationship to the paper's success.

Their paper, with the suitably succinct title The advantage of short paper titlespublished in Royal Society Open Science, examined the 20,000 most cited papers each year from 2007 to 2013, with titles ranging from one to 55 words.

Dr Letchford, Research Fellow in Data Science, said: “There have been previous studies on this that have proven inconclusive, but our study uses a much bigger sample.

“Our analysis suggests that papers with shorter titles do receive more citations.

“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.

“Our results do also reveal that journals which publish papers with shorter titles tend to receive more citations per paper.”


Graph showing shorter papers have more citations
The long and short of it: The journals, the size of the blue circle corresponds with how many of its papers were used in the study, are plotted according to the mean length of their papers and their citation rank


For papers published in 2011, for example, the study reveals that each character added onto a paper's title had a tendency to reduce the number of citations by approximately 1.8 per cent.

Tobias Preis
Tobias Preis

Dr Letchford added: “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.

"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.”

Dr Preis, Associate Professor of Behavioural Science and Finance and co-director of the Data Science Lab, said: "So much of our communication now takes place online. This research provides another example of how huge digitalised records of communication can be analysed to provide new insights into human behaviour."

Suzy Moat
Suzy Moat

Dr Moat, Associate Professor of Behavioural Science and co-director of the Data Science Lab, 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."

Follow Tobias Preis on Twitter @t_preis. He teaches Behavioural Sciences for the Manager on the Executive MBA plsu Big Data Analytics and Complexity in the Social Sciences on the suite of MSc Finance and MSc Business courses.

Follow Suzy Moat on Twitter @suzymoat. Dr Moat teacheBehavioural Sciences for the Manager on the Executive MBA plsu Big Data Analytics and Complexity in the Social Sciences on the suite of MSc Finance and MSc Business courses.

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