Ulrich Morawetz und Martin Schönhart
Choosing a title for a manuscript can be approached either like a craft or like a work of art. To learn the craft, books can be consulted. For example Silvia (2015, p.164) stresses that it is important
- To start by selecting at least keywords that match the research interest of peers (don’t use synonyms or literary allusions)
- Select the right "tone": straight and sober, silly, intriguing, snarky, combative, or confusing. The right tone should match your manuscript and the journal. And don’t forget: you will have to live the rest of your life with the title.
- Choose the title structure right: The most popular is the colon title with a main title, a colon, and a subtitle. It is particularly striking if one part is short and the other one is long. Use another structure only if the title still conveys the substance of the manuscript. Consider also using a question as full title or as one of the elements.
Silvia (2015, p.167) also explains what to avoid:
- A title can be too topical: for example, an idea from the news might be an eye-catcher now, but future readers might not get the reference.
- A title can be too obscure: will the readers get the reference?
- Avoid subscripts, superscripts, mathematical characters, and the like: they will not render well in the database
These arguments highlight the importance of a title to perfectly inform about major aspects of a scientific article. Another school of thought argues from an artistic rather than informative perspective and highlights the need to gain attraction of potential readers, who face increasing amounts of scientific literature. From this perspective the title serves as eye catcher – still related to the paper of course – while the abstract informs about major contents. Learning the art of writing a title is more difficult as creativity to a certain degree is more a matter of personality and attitude than skills. One approach, however, may be to study examples. Below we started a list of titles which strike us as extraordinary creative.
List of extraordinary creative titles:
- "The Rise and Fall of the Environmental Kuznets Curve" (Stern, 2004)
- "What Are We Weighting For" (Solon et al., 2015)
- "Give peas a chance: Transformations in food consumption and production systems" (Green and Foster, 2005)
- "Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy" (O'Neil, 2016)
- "On the Statistical Analysis of Dirty Pictures" (Besag, 1986)
- "Engineered crops could have it made in the shade" (Stokstad, 2016)
- "I Just Ran Two Million Regressions" (Sala-I-Martin, 1997)
- "Survival of the fattest? Indices of body condition do not predict viability in the brown anole (Anolis sagrei)" (Cox and Calsbeek, 2014)
- "The dark side of biodiversity: Spatial application of the biological soil quality indicator (BSQ)" (Rüdisser et al., 2015)
- "Are you smart enough to know what to eat? A critique of behavioural economics as justification for regulation" (Lusk, 2014)
- "Mostly Pointless Spatial Econometrics?" (Gibbons and Overman, 2012)
- "How to write a great paper in agricultural development and get it published" (De Groot, 2011)
- "Watch your step: insect mortality on hiking trails" (Ciach et al., 2016)...
- "No Price Like Home: Global House Prices, 1870-2012" (Knoll et al., 2017)
- "Will the Real Elasticity of Substitution Please Stand Up? (A Comparison of the Allen/Uzawa and Morishima Elasticities)" (Blackorby and Russel, 1989)
- "The Difference Between “Significant” and “Not Significant” is not Itself Statistically Significant" (Gelman and Stern, 2006)
- "This Mine Is Mine! How Minerals Fuel Conflicts in Africa" (Bergman et al. 2017)
Do you have suggestions for additional creative titles?
Please comment below or send us an email!
Which approach to choose, the craft or the art? Or a combination?
In the end, writing is like talking: it is a personal decision what you want to say and how you want to say it. An innovative example is given by Seppelt et al. (2009), who developed their theoretical thoughts on modelling complex environmental systems along a virtual dialog between two scientists in ETH Zurich’s cafeteria. By the way, one of the authors in a personal talk acknowledged the willingness or even enthusiasm of both the editor and reviewers to support such paper project. In the scientific process, the choice never is taken by the authors alone. Choosing the artful way of publishing requires willingness to take some risks but obviously, there is both need and acceptance (see for example K.P. Liessmanns philosophical arguments).
Finally, writing is a personal decision about contents and style. And the title is kind of the first thing you are saying.
Bergman, N., Couttenier, M., Rohner, D. and Thoenig, M. (2017) This Mine Is Mine! How Minerals Fuel Conflicts in Africa. American Economic Review 107(6), 1564-1610.
Besag, J., 1986, On the Statistical Analysis of Dirty Pictures. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series B (Methodological) 48(3), 259-302
Ciach, M., Maslanka, B., Krzus, A. and Wojas, T. (2016), Watch your step: insect mortality on hiking trails. Insect Conserv Divers. (in press, doi:10.1111/icad.12209).
Blackorby C, Russell RR (1989) Will the Real Elasticity of Substitution Please Stand Up? (A Comparison of the Allen/Uzawa and Morishima Elasticities). American Economic Review 79:882–88.
Cox, R.M., Calsbeek, R., 2014. Survival of the fattest? Indices of body condition do not predict viability in the brown anole (Anolis sagrei). Funct Ecol. 29, 404-413.
De Groote, H, 2011, How to write a great paper in agricultural development and get it published, African Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 6(2).
Gelman A, Stern H (2006) The Difference Between “Significant” and “Not Significant” is not Itself Statistically Significant. The American Statistician 60:328–331. doi: 10.1198/000313006X152649
Gibbons S, Overman HG (2012) Mostly Pointless Spatial Econometrics?*. Journal of Regional Science 52:172–191. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9787.2012.00760.x
Green, K., Foster, C., 2005. Give peas a chance: Transformations in food consumption and production systems. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change, Transitions towards Sustainability through System Innovation 72, 663–679. doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2004.12.005
Knoll, Katharina, Moritz Schularick and Thomas Steger. 2017. "No Price Like Home: Global House Prices, 1870-2012." American Economic Review, 107(2): 331-53. DOI: 10.1257/aer.20150501
Lusk, J.L. (2014) Are you smart enough to know what to eat? A critique of behavioural economics as justification for regulation. European Review of Agricultural Economics, 41 (3), pp. 355–373
Rüdisser, J., Tasser, E., Peham, T., Meyer, E., Tappeiner, U., 2015. The dark side of biodiversity:
Spatial application of the biological soil quality indicator (BSQ). Ecol Indi. 53, 240-246.
Sala-I-Martin, X.X., 1997. I Just Ran Two Million Regressions. Am. Econ. Rev. 87, 178–183.
Silvia, P.J., 2015. Write it up: practical strategies for writing and publishing journal articles. American Psychological Association, Washington.
Solon, G., Haider, S.J., Wooldridge, J.M., 2015. What Are We Weighting For? J. Hum. Resour. 50, 301–316. doi:10.3368/jhr.50.2.301
Stern, D.I., 2004. The Rise and Fall of the Environmental Kuznets Curve. World Dev. 32, 1419–1439. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2004.03.004
Stokstad, E., 2016. Engineered crops could have it made in the shade. Science 354, 816–816. doi:10.1126/science.354.6314.816
O'Neil, C., 2016, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, New York. Crown.