Are IR Titles Getting Increasingly Boring? Evidence from a Data Set

by on 2012-05-18 in Uncategorized- 21 Comments


Though scholars widely claim that they are capable of writing creative titles, there exist some notable skeptics. Resolving this debate requires empirical evidence. However, beyond a few anecdotes, no one has systematically tested trends in the mind-numbing dullness of IR article titles. I correct this lacuna through the use of an original data set containing eight independent measurements of the originality and wittiness of article titles. Using various statistical techniques, I find that, for article appearing in six leading journals between 1985 and 2005, titles are indeed becoming more boring over time. In addition to confirming a depressing decline in titular creativity, my study reveals two additional findings of significance. First, titles that take the form of “historical quotation: explanation of what the article is actually about” are only interesting for the years 1985-1995, after which they become extremely boring. Second, the most consistently insipid article titles consist of  a putative correlation expressed as a question followed by an independent clause alluding to a data set. My findings and research methods have important implications for the field, as I assert repeatedly in the body of this article despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

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  • GM

    Ha! Touché, Dan.

  • Nawal

    That’s awesome. 

  • Stephen Saideman

    I tried to invoke an old disco song for a JOP article a decade ago, but the editors nixed it: Reuniting?  When Does It Feel So Good  —on irredentism.  For original context:

  • Nawal

    That’s another trick social scientists could learn from artists: how to actually write. I knew of one novelist who literally re-read Hemingway and Fitzgerald just to grasp the nuances in their style and tone. On another note, if all else fails, go for puns on famous novels and songs. 

  • Charli Carpenter

    I say we practice doing better with a contest to rename this post, whose title I fear falls victim to all the findings of the the study. 

    My submission: Bo(I)Red Stiff. 

    (OK, I think I just proved Dan’s point. Help.)

  • Nawal

    “The Tragedy of Conference Proposal Writing: Can IR Get Its Groove Back?” 

    “To Bandwagon, Balance, or Rebel? Abstract Writing as a Discursive Performance Act.” 

  • dnexon

    More editorial snark, less risk avoidance!

  • dnexon

    Another key finding of the study is that punny titles, no matter how groan-inducing, are always less boring than either of the two categories mentioned in the abstract.

  • ConflictCupcake

    I decided that I gave up on IR names when I saw “World Politics: The Menu for Choice”

    The “Menu”? What the hell does that even mean. I mean, I suppsoe it is more interesting than the type you list above, but seriously – talk about crazy.

  • PM

    The False Promise of Clever Titles

  • PM


    “Other previous work on 9,031 papers in 22 journals found that studies with longer titles had more citations: perhaps they’re read more, as it’s easier to see that they suit your interests. And papers with titles rated as “highly amusing”, when presented in a list, get fewer citations. You might wonder if that’s because funny titles are more likely to be scientific comment pieces, rather than citation-classics of original research, but the finding stood up when this factor was controlled for.

  • Jacob Levy

    Titles involving punctuation play– “When the (fat)her is a (m)other: transgender parenting and depictions of obesity,” that kind of thing– were very interesting for approximately 10 minutes in 1992, and then rapidly fell to being less interesting than “evidence from X.”

  • dnexon

    Glad to see that there’s research into these burning questions. Long titles without question marks would seem the best route for increasing citations. 
    According to CJO, not a single one of the most cited APSR or IO articles (either for previous two years or “all time”) is of the “correlation as interrogative plus independent clause referencing data set” form. That may change in the future. 

  • Colin Wight

    ‘What’s the Frequency Kenneth': ‘They Shoot Dead Horses Don’t they?; ‘Metacampbell': ‘Why Shooting the Messenger doesn’t make the bad news go away?'; ‘Inside the Epistemological cave all Bets are off'; “Assuming the can Opener won’t Work’….You’re joking yes? This has to be a direct lift from the Onion Dr Nexon!

  • William D. Adler

    “Bringing funny titles back in”

  • Mlada

    “Boring is what authors make of it”

  • PM

    Performativity ensures it. Science hath spoken.

  • William Kindred Winecoff

    Insta-classic, DH. Some great comments too. One of the first things I did after entering grad school was decide that I’d rather have a boring title than a punny title, and also that the colon is horribly overused in titles. (This was driven home after I named a seminar paper “Pick Your Poison: …” to which a professor retorted “‘Pick Your Poisson’ would be better” despite the fact that I didn’t use a Poisson model.) So naturally a current R&R is coloned… but my co-author titled it, I swear!

    Either, I’m pretty sure that boring/punny IR titles are correlated at a very high level with the democratic peace. Economic growth, too.

  • Josh Busby

    Small Bores: International Relations Abandons Big Questions

  • Tobias

    Best punny title ever: “Britannia waived the rules: The Major government and the 1994 Rwandan genocide” – 

    Dan is right. Someone really has to write that article: “Quo vadis, good title?” 

  • Nawal

     Touche. Though I would add the following just for kicks:

    “‘We Solemnly Swear We’re Up to No Good’–Mischief Management of Creative IR Titles and Abstracts.” 

    “Singing Vapid Titles into Existence: A Cacoph0ny of Mishaps, 1985-2005.” 

    “On the Genealogy of Insipid Writing.” 

    (This one’s for Charli) “Game of Titles: Authors Always Pay Their Debts when a Publishing Winter is Coming.” 

    Alright I’m out. Where is Brian Rathburn’s snark and creativity when we need him?