The LSE Public Policy Group has a very helpful guide called “Maximizing the Impacts of Your Research.” I wanted to focus on one key takeaway from Chapter 4: A good title and abstract is key to getting cited more frequently, and scholars are typically lousy at creating good titles and abstracts.
It’s great if you have a bunch of publications in good journals, but tenure committees want to see you getting cited. Plus, I’m sure you’d personally rather have more (and not less) people seeing your work and citing it in their own papers. Otherwise, why are you in this business?
Sometimes it’s about the simple stuff. Your paper isn’t going to market itself, nor will it be flashing neon lights when a tired researcher is combing through page after page of search results. So how do you maximize the chances of getting your article or book on the first page of results?
The first step: Your title should catch the eye and convey the thesis of your work in one snappy formulation.
“Mill on Liberty” is a really poor title because it has been used many times and conveys nothing about your argument. “Was Mill a Liberal?” is also poor because interrogative titles make the reader have to work more to find out your thesis. You’re not writing a thriller with plot twists here: let the reader know the answer right away.
A very good title is something like this: “New Public Management is Dead—Long Live Digital Era Governance.” In a few words, it has a narrative flow and captures the paper’s argument.
Perhaps most importantly, your title needs to have some key words that potential readers would likely type into search engines.
Your title is just the first step in attracting a potential reader. Now you need a good abstract.
You should replicate in the abstract the same thematic words in your title. The link has a helpful checklist for good practices, a few of which I will highlight. First, it should be 150-300 words and no more than two paragraphs.
- At least 50 words reference other people’s work in previous literature.
- At least 50 address what is distinctive about your approach.
- Where relevant, 50-100 words should describe your methods or datasets.
- As many words as allowable within your limit should address your bottom-line findings.
- Finally, you should spend 30-50 words on the value-added by your work within this field.
Google Scholar can help test your title and abstract.
Type the whole title in double quotes (“ “). It’s good if nothing shows up and bad if many titles do. Then type three or four of the most distinctive title words and aim for an inverted U curve: a modest number of returns for each word is good; no, very few, or very many returns is bad.
Again, the “Maximizing the Impacts of Your Research” guide provides lots of good advice beyond these highlights, so I suggest you give the entire thing a read, focusing on the fourth chapter, of course.