As a science adjacent writer, writing about science adjacent things, I realize that I’ve been titling my posts incorrectly for my target audience. I want scientists, academics, and professors to read my posts. So why aren’t they? It wasn’t until I read Erik Deckers’ recent post, about how writers imitate what they read, that the obvious hit me. I was writing business-y sounding posts with business-y sounding titles, because I’ve been reading and consuming a majority of business-y articles. You know, the articles titles with attention hooks and SEO optimization:
- Do You Have What It Takes to Lead a Successful Change Effort?
- What You Do Is Who You Are
- 4 Strategies To Effectively Navigate The Confidence-Competence Matrix
- 5 Reasons Your Academic Lab Is a Small Business and Should Be Treated That Way
That last one is mine. All of these title are from business blogs that I follow. Their titles are attention getting because they illicit feelings of missing out, inferiority, and fear. They play on these emotions to get people to click on the articles. Not quite clickbait, because these articles are more truthful in their representation of facts. The problem is, on the spectrum of clickbait to obituaries, the reading material of most scientists is deadly earnest:
- Near-complete depolymerization of polyesters with nano-dispersed enzymes
- Dexmedetomidine or Propofol for Sedation in Mechanically Ventilated Adults with Sepsis
- De novo biosynthesis of a nonnatural cobalt porphyrin cofactor in E. coli and incorporation into hemoproteins
- Biosynthesis of para-Cyclophane-Containing Hirsutellone Family of Fungal Natural Products
The first thing that leaps out is the complex and incredibly precise language. Additionally, these titles make me feel nothing but curiosity. I am drawn to them not because of an emotional response, but from a response to the content. The titles tell me what I can learn from these articles, what advancement in understanding has been made. The titles of the scientific articles are earnest. They want to be descriptive and precise, so that when you open the article, you know exactly what you will get. They don’t need emotional hooks to get me to take action. The content itself is attractive and the title is an honest reflection of that high quality content.
As Stephan Heard mentioned in his post, scientists imitate other scientists in their use of language. It starts with students, when we teach them to write scientific papers. Jargon heavy writing begets jargon heavy writing. I’ve come down on the other side of the spectrum, where I’ve started to write business posts because that is what I’ve been consuming. I now use business buzz words instead of precise multisyllabic terms. This has caused a mismatch between my writing and my target audience. I need to the find the balance where my titles, language, and tone are similar enough to science writing for my audience, but avoiding the trap of narrowing that audience by the use of jargon.
Scientists chose titles for precision. Business people chose titles for clicks. I need to rethink how I title my posts.
What considerations do you take into account when titling your posts or your scientific publications? I’m interested to hear what is important or not important when making the titling decision. Let me know in the comments below.