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RESEARCH: Can a funny title lead to more citations?

May 24, 2023

Chloe Cull is poised in front of trees on a sunny day. She is wearing a blue coat and a black turtle neck. Chloe Cull

While many academic authors choose technical and dense titles for their publications, is this always the best route to gaining citations?

A new study by a team including Chloe Cull, an MSc student in the Department of Biology and a junior associate at the Loyola Sustainability Research Centre, examined over 2,400 papers on the topics of ecology and evolution, looking at both self-citation and external citation as measuring tools when it comes to funny titles.

There isn’t a lot of research into this specific question, with existing research pointing to potential negative citation rates for ‘catchy’ or funny titles. However, when the authors’ data results were corrected for factors like self-citation, it was clear publications with funnier titles were more likely to be cited than others.

Titles that scored highly for humour included: “Some Like it Hot: Intra-Population Variation in Behavioral Thermoregulation in Color-Polymorphic Pygmy Grasshoppers,” “Is it Time to Bury the Ecosystem Concept? (With Full Military Honors, of Course!),” and “The Competition-Colonization Trade-off is Dead; Long Live the Competition-Colonization Trade-off.”

In contrast, factors such as overly technical titles, longer titles, and those using acronyms or assertive-statement phrasing were less likely to be cited.

Essentially, catchy and funny titles tend to draw more attention from readers and academic peers.

The study’s findings indicate academics shouldn’t be afraid to give more lighthearted titles to their publications.

Read If this title is funny, will you cite me? Citation impacts of humour and other features of article titles in ecology and evolution, published in Facets Journal.

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