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Musings on, and considerations of, the benefits, likely advantages, and convenience of preparing academic articles for peer review with short, concise, and eye-catching titles: Some initial thoughts from our team


What a terrible title. It would have been much better to keep it short and concise. Attractive and interesting. Compelling. Alluring. Try to make people think: ‘I really want to read that article! I’m interested in learning what that article has to say’.


In our Charlesworth Knowledge workshops and training courses, we always teach that the best and most effective kind of title for an English-language academic article is a short one. Our approach has now been vindicated: evidence has just been published that also suggests that a short, compelling title is the best approach for a research paper. This is important, of course, because understanding what makes a paper ‘impactful’ is something that academics, their institutions, and funding agencies are all very interested in discovering.


Perhaps a better title for this article might have been ‘Want your article to be highly cited? A short title is best’.


A newly published compilation and analysis of both highly and poorly-cited articles downloaded from the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) website was submitted for statistical analysis and revealed a number of very interesting trends. Health warning: As noted in the original report, these relationships are not causative, but are nevertheless ‘characteristic features’ of academic papers that tend to be cited more highly and so are important for us to bear in mind as writers.


What are the common attributes of highly-cited academic papers?


The sample showed these papers tend to:


          have a title of between seven and 13 words;


          use common words in their titles;


          have six or more authors;


          be about 5,000 words in average length;


          include a minimum of six figures and two tables.


Let’s break this down.


The use of keywords – why you need to include them


A short, compelling research article title is clearly better than a long, convoluted one. Keep your title at an average length of just ten words to be effective and include keywords that occur commonly in your research area. This latter point is important because keywords help search engines pick up your publication and thus you are more likely to be cited by other authors when they put their own articles together.


Multi-contributor articles


The presence of a relatively high number of authors is interesting: this implies that article citations increase as more authors bring in their academic networks and, simply put, more people become aware of a work immediately upon its publication.


What is the average length of a research article


A characteristic article length of around 5,000 words is not surprising. The majority of published academic papers are between 4,000 and 5,000 words long, probably because this is the number of words needed for most people to convey their research efficiently. We’d also recommend sticking to around this length if you want people to be able to read your work, not lose interest, and remain engaged. The findings regarding the use of a good number of figures and at least two tables strongly suggests that readers need visual aids to appreciate and evaluate results and that data presentation is also important. You need to show your readers the data on which your study is based, as well as how it was analysed and what the results show: very often the best way to do this is using pictures. In our workshops, we teach that one good way to build an effective ‘results’ section for an academic paper is to start with data presentation and then work in text around your figures and tables.


Why you should use a short title in your research article


The fact that a short title containing commonly used words tends to characterise highly-cited papers is unsurprising and reinforces the point that appealing to readers is all important in any kind of writing, academic or otherwise. If no-one reads and then cites your papers then there’s not much point in publishing them.


If you have general questions about academic writing, or face a specific issue with a paper you are currently working on, why not get in touch with one of our team at Charlesworth Author Services? All our expert editors have PhDs in specific subject areas: this differentiates us from our competitors. Using Charlesworth Author Services ensures that your published work will be high quality in both language and subject-specific content.


Our academic writing and publishing training courses, online materials, and blog articles contain numerous tips and tricks to help you navigate academic writing and publishing and maximise your potential as a researcher. Find out more at www.cwauthors.com.


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