A couple of years ago, two researchers at the Technion tested whether or not funnier scientific article titles yielded higher citations. Their article, Amusing titles in scientific journals and article citation, takes the titles of over 1000 articles and has them rated on two scales, pleasantness and how amusing they are. They then checked to see if the articles that were funnier (as well as more pleasant) were more or less likely to be cited. Some examples of said titles:
Examples of Top Amusing titles that were also in the Top Pleasant titles group include: ‘Beware of a half-tailed test’, and ‘The unicorn, the normal curve, and other improbable creatures’. An example of a Top Amusing title that was not in the Top Pleasant title group is: ‘Modeling the days of our lives: using survival analysis when designing and analyzing longitudinal studies of duration and the timing of events’.
Well, the upshot is that more humorous titles actually yield lower amounts of citation. They discuss the possible reasons, including the fact that “Traditionally, scientific publication is considered a serious matter, and humor seems antithetical to it”.
Of course, humor aside, there is the additional problem of whether or not a paper is well-written. I would love to have evidence that well-written papers do better, but thus far, the only evidence we have is that bafflegab doesn’t increase prestige (Armstrong 1989). Not a strong result, but at least it’s a start towards an empirical argument for good writing in scientific publications.
Sagi, I., & Yechiam, E. (2008). Amusing titles in scientific journals and article citation Journal of Information Science, 34 (5), 680-687 DOI: 10.1177/0165551507086261
Armstrong, J. (1989). Readability and prestige in scientific journals Journal of Information Science, 15 (2), 123-124 DOI: 10.1177/016555158901500209