En-Titled

How important is the title of academic publications? In my opinion, it’s very important. In times of information overabundance one often must select quickly based on limited cues, such as the abstract, keywords, or conclusion. In such situations, the title is the author’s first – and maybe only – argument. So, you have to make it good and memorable. Researchers should take enough time to find a catchy and fitting title. Often, the best and most cited papers also have a clear, appealing title. I think that’s no coincidence because a good title implies carefulness in the construction of the argument, which is essential for an excellent scientific text.

Some of the blockbuster papers in my field (communication, Internet studies) indeed carry strong titles:

  • Why Youth ♥ Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life (boyd, 2007… and yes, this ♥ must really be a ♥ and not something stupid like “(heart)”, “(Heart)” or “heart”)
  • The benefits of Facebook “friends”: Social Capital and college students’ use of online social network sites (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007; the title says it, the sub-title specifies it, and all the main ingredients – Facebook, social capital, college students and online SNS – of the paper are already there, which makes it easily searchable)
  • Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the “Net Generation” (Hargittai, 2010; very nice wordplay + the question mark points to the main research question of the paper)
  • Does the internet increase, decrease, or supplement social captial? Social network, participation, and community commitment (Wellman, Quan-Haase, Witte, & Hampton, 2001; not terribly creative, either, but the the title contains the essence of the paper)

Unfortunately, many papers in my field have boring or dull titles. Two casually picked examples are Bruce Bimber’s paper Information and Political Engagement in America: The Search for Effects of Information Technology at the Individual Level and Homero Gil de Zúñiga, Eulalia Puig-i-Abril and Hernando Rojas’ article Weblogs, traditional sources online and political participation: An assessment of how the Internet is changing the political environment. Don’t get me wrong, these are super papers but their titles are just not very sexy and at the edge of being too long. It’s true, better a boring than meaningless or “void” title (the two boring examples are at least indicative of the content and therefore neither meaningless nor void). But why not have both (combined) when it’s possible? The creative part AND the rigid part.

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