Skip to main content

Avoiding obscure topics and generalising findings produces higher impact research

Abstract

Much academic research is never cited and may be rarely read, indicating wasted effort from the authors, referees and publishers. One reason that an article could be ignored is that its topic is, or appears to be, too obscure to be of wide interest, even if excellent scholarship produced it. This paper reports a word frequency analysis of 874,411 English article titles from 18 different Scopus natural, formal, life and health sciences categories 2009–2015 to assess the likelihood that research on obscure (rarely researched) topics is less cited. In all categories examined, unusual words in article titles associate with below average citation impact research. Thus, researchers considering obscure topics may wish to reconsider, generalise their study, or to choose a title that reflects the wider lessons that can be drawn. Authors should also consider including multiple concepts and purposes within their titles in order to attract a wider audience.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

References

  • Anthony, L. (2001). Characteristic features of research article titles in computer science. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 44(3), 187–194.

    Article  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  • Bartol, T., & Stopar, K. (2015). Nano language and distribution of article title terms according to power laws. Scientometrics, 103(2), 435–451.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boettger, R. K., & Friess, E. (2014). What are the most common title words in technical communication publications? In 2014 IEEE international professional communication conference (IPCC) (pp. 1–7). Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Press.

  • Buter, R. K., & van Raan, A. F. (2011). Non-alphanumeric characters in titles of scientific publications: An analysis of their occurrence and correlation with citation impact. Journal of Informetrics, 5(4), 608–617.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chung, C., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2007). The psychological functions of function words. In K. Fiedler (Ed.), Social communication (pp. 343–359). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Didegah, F., & Thelwall, M. (2013). Which factors help authors produce the highest impact research? Collaboration, journal and document properties. Journal of Informetrics, 7(4), 861–873.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fairclough, R., & Thelwall, M. (2015). More precise methods for national research citation impact comparisons. Journal of Informetrics, 9(4), 895–906. doi:10.1016/j.joi.2015.09.005.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Finberg, H. (2015). Journalism professionals, academics debate the value of research. Poynter. http://www.poynter.org/2012/academic-food-fight-over-the-value-of-research/178750/.

  • Fox, C. W., & Burns, C. S. (2015). The relationship between manuscript title structure and success: Editorial decisions and citation performance for an ecological journal. Ecology and Evolution, 5(10), 1970–1980.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gamboa, C. (2015). Connecting with the community: Matt owens on obscure research that makes a big impact. Sage connection—inisight. http://connection.sagepub.com/blog/industry-news/2015/07/15/connecting-with-the-community-matt-owens-on-obscure-research-that-makes-a-big-impact/.

  • Goodman, N. (2012). Familiarity breeds: Clichés in article titles. British Journal of General Practice, 62(605), 656–657.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Guo, S., Zhang, G., Ju, Q., Chen, Y., Chen, Q., & Li, L. (2015). The evolution of conceptual diversity in economics titles from 1890 to 2012. Scientometrics, 102(3), 2073–2088.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hallock, R. M., & Dillner, K. M. (2016). Should title lengths really adhere to the American Psychological Association’s twelve word limit? American Psychologist, 71(3), 240–242.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hartley, J. (2005). To attract or to inform: What are titles for? Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 35(2), 203–213.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hartley, J. (2008). Academic writing and publishing. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hudson, J. (2016). An analysis of the titles of papers submitted to the UK REF in 2014: Authors, disciplines, and stylistic details. Scientometrics. doi:10.1007/s11192-016-2081-4.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jacques, T. S., & Sebire, N. J. (2010). The impact of article titles on citation hits: An analysis of general and specialist medical journals. JRSM Open, 1(1), 2. doi:10.1258/shorts.2009.100020.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jamali, H. R., & Nikzad, M. (2011). Article title type and its relation with the number of downloads and citations. Scientometrics, 88(2), 653–661.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • James, C. R. (2014). Science unshackled: How obscure, abstract, seemingly useless scientific research turned out to be the basis for modern life. Baltimore, MD: JHU Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koppel, M., Schler, J., & Argamon, S. (2009). Computational methods in authorship attribution. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 60(1), 9–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lundberg, J. (2007). Lifting the crown—citation z-score. Journal of Informetrics, 1(2), 145–154.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McGowan, J., & Tugwell, P. (2005). Informative titles described article content. Journal of the Canadian Health Libraries Association/Journal de l’Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada, 26(3), 83–84.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mexal, S. (2010). The unintended value of the humanities. The Chronicle of Higher Education. http://chronicle.com/article/The-Unintended-Value-of-the/65619.

  • Nagano, R. L. (2009). Lexical comparison of journal article titles in soft disciplines. Porta Lingua, 2009, 111–117.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nair, L. B., & Gibbert, M. (2016). What makes a ‘good’ title and (how) does it matter for citations? A review and general model of article title attributes in management science. Scientometrics, 107(3), 1331–1359.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Paiva, C. E., Lima, J. P. D. S. N., & Paiva, B. S. R. (2012). Articles with short titles describing the results are cited more often. Clinics, 67(5), 509–513.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rostami, F., Mohammadpoorad, A., & Hajizadeh, M. (2014). The effects of the characteristics of title on citation rates of articles. Scientometrics, 98(3), 2007–2010.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sagan, D. (2013). Cosmic apprentice: Dispatches from the edges of science. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Sagi, I., & Yechiam, E. (2008). Amusing titles in scientific journals and article citation. Journal of Information Science, 34(5), 680–687.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sahragard, R., & Meihami, H. (2016). A diachronic study on the information provided by the research titles of applied linguistics journals. Scientometrics, 108(3), 1315–1331.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Selkirk, E. (1996). The prosodic structure of function words. In J. L. Morgan & K. Demuth (Eds.), Signal to syntax: Bootstrapping from speech to grammar in early acquisition (pp. 187–214). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Subotic, S., & Mukherjee, B. (2014). Short and amusing: The relationship between title characteristics, downloads, and citations in psychology articles. Journal of Information Science, 40(1), 115–124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tenopir, C., Wilson, C. S., Vakkari, P., Talja, S., & King, D. W. (2010). Cross country comparison of scholarly e-reading patterns in Australia, Finland, and the United States. Australian Academic and Research Libraries, 41(1), 26–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thelwall, M. (2016). The discretised lognormal and hooked power law distributions for complete citation data: Best options for modelling and regression. Journal of Informetrics, 10(2), 336–346.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thelwall, M., & Maflahi, N. (2015). How important is computing technology for library and information science research? Library and Information Science Research, 37(1), 42–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Waltman, L., van Eck, N. J., van Leeuwen, T. N., Visser, M. S., & van Raan, A. F. (2011). Towards a new crown indicator: Some theoretical considerations. Journal of Informetrics, 5(1), 37–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mike Thelwall.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Thelwall, M. Avoiding obscure topics and generalising findings produces higher impact research. Scientometrics 110, 307–320 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-016-2159-z

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-016-2159-z

Keywords

  • Citation analysis
  • Article titles
  • Research impact
  • Word frequencies
  • Academic English