There has been substantial work done on the characteristics of journal titles in different disciplines. Titles serve at least two purposes (Lewison and Hartley 2005). Firstly they need to attract readers. Secondly they need to inform the reader about the paper’s contents. The structure of the title can do this in several ways. Lewison and Hartley argued that a two part structure using a colon both increases the number of words and increases the information content. There are substantial disciplinary differences in the use of colons. For example, usage tends to be more common in psychology (50 %) than computer science (7 %) (Lewison and Hartley 2005). In contrast, they concluded that authors rarely used a question mark in their titles. However, Ball (2009) found the use of a question mark in a title to have increased over time and to be higher in medicine (approx. 5 %) than life sciences (approx. 2.3 %) which in turn was higher than physics (approx. 0.57 %).Footnote 3 Ball goes on to argue that the use of question marks can be explained as they both help to structure the title in a way as to provide informational content, but they also may stimulate interest in the paper, by provoking a potential reader. He also argues that they may also facilitate the rapid publication of results about which the authors are not fully confident (Ball 2009, p. 677). In addition there is a trend for longer titles (White and Hernandez 1991). There is also evidence to link the structure and style of the title to the number of authors, which in itself has tended to increase over time (Hudson 1996). Nagano (2015) argues that title lengths differ between disciplines, due in part to custom. She also finds titles tend to be longer in what she terms the ‘hard sciences’ such as medicine than the ‘soft sciences’ such as sociology. Finally, there is evidence of a positive relationship between the number of authors and the length of a paper’s title (White 1991), with this being more common among science, than social science or humanities, journals (Yitzhaki 1994). Lewison and Hartley (2005), as well as Hartley (2007), also find that in most disciplines single authors more commonly use colons in the title than is the case with multiple authors. However, when the number of co-authors is high this result tends to be reversed. This is in part consistent with the need for multiple authors to negotiate differences of opinion to a consensus (Johnson 1998). Johnson goes on to comment that co-authorship involves disinvesting in preferred ways of writing and this relates to language and not just content.
In persuading academics to read a paper, devices such as informative titles, question marks and colons may also stimulate impact as, for example, measured by the number of citations (Haslam et al. 2008). However, the relevant empirical work is not conclusive. Haslam et al., themselves found no link between ‘the catchiness’ of a title and citations in social and personality psychology, a similar finding to Hartley (2007) more generally. Indeed Hartley went on to comment that it would be startling if something so simple as a colon in a title led to repeated citations. Nonetheless, in a regression analysis Haslam et al. (2008) did find that a colon had a positive effect on citations, and title length had a small negative effect. Jacques and Sebire (2010) found a positive correlation equal to 0.62 which was significant at the 1 % level, between the number of citations and the length of the title. The presence of a colon also increased citations. However seeming to contradict this, Jamali and Nikzad (2011) detected a negative, although insignificant, correlation between citations and title length. But articles with a colon in the title received significantly, at the 5 % level of significance, fewer citations in six PLoS journals. Van Wesel et al. (2014) find citations to decline with title length and increase with the number of authors in a range of disciplines. They also increase with the use of a colon in applied physics, decline in general and internal medicine and to have no impact in sociology. To some extent these differences between different studies may be explained by differences between disciplines.
It has also been argued (Glanzel and Thijs 2004) that citations increase with the number of authors in a number of disciplines, e.g. evolutionary psychology (Webster et al. 2009), biology and biochemistry, chemistry, mathematics and physics (Vieira and Gomes 2010) and information science and technology (Levitt and Thelwall 2009). However in clinical psychology, educational measurement, and management science, Smart and Bayer (1986) found little effect. Such an effect, if it exists, might be expected because multiple authorship may improve paper quality (Haslam et al. 2008). It may also expand the network of the authors (Frenken et al. 2005). There is also a greater potential for self-citation.
There is evidence that coauthorship increases the time it takes to write a paper, Hollis (2001) emphasising the increased amount of time spent on redrafting the paper into a mutually acceptable form. In addition, using panel data on 339 economists he finds a negative relationship between research output and teamwork. Bidault and Hildebrand (2014) also suggest that the costs may increase as the size of the team increases. This is consistent with a long established literature which argues for the decreasing returns to teamwork in general (Hackman 1990). Katz and Martin (1997) focus specifically on co-authorship and the extent to which it coincides with collaboration. They discuss both the costs and the benefits as they apply across disciplines in general. In terms of the former they first mention time costs, i.e. time spent in preparing a research proposal, carrying out the research and writing up the results. Time costs may be greater when travel is involved. With respect to writing up costs, it is emphasised that there may be disagreements over the results and their significance. Specifically they comment that “Differences of opinion are almost inevitable and time will be needed to resolve these amicably. Writing up results jointly may also take more time where there are disagreements over the findings and their significance, or over who should be included among the co-authors and in what order they should be listed” (p. 15). Given this, it seems likely that there will also be disagreement, and hence the need for compromise, about other aspects of the paper including the title. Katz and Martin further argue that these costs are likely to increase with the number of people involved. Cummings and Kiesler (2005) analyse the coordination costs with respect to researchers in multi-university collaborations, mainly in the sciences and engineering but also psychology and mathematics. They conclude that the more universities involved in a collaboration, the fewer will be the number of coordination activities and project outcomes.
There is also a literature on the impact exercises like the REF and the RAE have on academics, their mode of working and their publications (Butler and Spoelstra 2014). Much of this results from institutional pressure to be enterable. Thus Hodder and Hodder (2010), in a New Zealand context, note that in the run up to the end of the relevant assessment period, 2006, publications increased and then declined in the years immediately following. There was also a tendency towards more co-authorship. Harley (2000), in the context of the RAE, argues that the need to produce papers sufficient to count within the relevant time period may have a negative impact on academic work. This is intuitively plausible and consistent with economic theory which would suggest that the REF in changing the incentive structure facing individuals will also change their behaviour. With no RAE/REF constraints we assume the academic would seek to maximise the quality and impact of their publications. As is generally the case, they will tend to prefer publications now rather than later, i.e. future publications are discounted. Whether to publish a piece of work now or in the future is then a trade-off between the discount factor and potential improvements which could be made to the publication by devoting more time to it. The requirement by the REF that the number of publications in each round must be no less than four, constrains the optimisation problem. For academics who are close to the deadline and need additional publications, the Lagrangean multiplier pertaining to the current REF period constraint will be positive and this may lead to publications being brought forward. For other academics who already have the required number of papers, this Lagrangean multiplier will be zero as the constraint is nonbinding, but there may be value in delaying publication in order to help meet the constraints of the next REF. There is evidence for both of these possibilities in addition to the observations made by Harley (2000). Firstly, for example, with people rushing the publication of edited books in order to fit within the (RAE) timeframe (Thomas 2011) and trying to persuade journals to publish their paper rapidly (Wellington 2003). Secondly, the author of this paper has direct knowledge of academics who have delayed publication with a view to enhancing their future value in the academic labour market. We also have the example of a young researcher at Warwick who gives the following advice “if you know you won’t be submitted for the REF 2014, then it might be worth holding off from publishing that 4* piece of work until after November 2013!”Footnote 4 In other words delay publication until the next REF period.
Based on this discussion, we have a number of hypotheses which will be tested by the data.
Firstly, the number of authors will vary between the disciplines and be greater for the sciences, including health, than the social sciences and the arts and humanities. In part this is because of the teams involved in lab work and in part due to the need to collaborate on ‘big science’.
Secondly, although we anticipate some differences between disciplines, we expect the character of the title to change as the number of authors increases. Specifically, we anticipate title length will increase with the number of authors, as they seek a compromise which meets all of their views and preferences.
However, the use of colons and question marks which complicate the title is expected to decline with the number of authors as, with two parts of a title to agree upon, their use makes agreement more difficult.
In terms of impact, we anticipate that citations will increase with the number of authors, but decline with the length of the title, as too long a title makes it more difficult to digest and may reduce the attraction factor.
Finally we anticipate that an increased numbers of authors increases the time it takes to write a paper, including doing the underlying research.
The impact of colons and question marks on citations is less certain. As discussed in the introduction, on the one hand they may increase the attraction factor in particular, but on the other hand, in constraining the title to a certain style, they may at times reduce the informational content. We anticipate that all of the above characteristics and impact will be reflected in the REF and hence can be tested with the REF data base. However, the extent to which they differ between different disciplines will also help inform us about those disciplines, and in some cases the problems of evaluating research across disciplines using the REF methodology. We return to these points in the conclusion.