Many of you are
preparing to present the fruits of your research for the first time. Hundreds
of hours of effort have finally yielded some data, which you type into a PC
hoping SPSS will provide the results you have envisioned since the idea first
thrust its way into your consciousness: "Ah, significance!"
decisions must be made as you lead up to that all-important poster, or, for the
sturdy of heart, paper presentation. Not the least of these decisions is the
title for the presentation. We know there are guidelines in the Publication
Manual of the American Psychological Association, and regional
associations typically limit the number of words in titles to 10. (We've
discovered that this is NOT a space issue as traditionally believed, but an
attention span issue.) Nevertheless, there have really been no useful
guidelines for titles. Until now!
program for an upcoming regional convention hits your mailbox, do you eagerly
flip through the pages searching for a title that screams, "Come hear this
paper?" Are you routinely disappointed to find the same old boring titles
that have been regurgitated out of the same title-generating machine used by Ebbinghaus?
Are you tired of titles that take the form of:
The Effects of ______ and ______ on
______ and ______
example of that long-standing trend:
The Effects of Humorlessness and
Pomposity on the Number of Participants and Their Likelihood of Entering Stage
What if we
recommended that you ignore all the existing guidelines and instead exercise
your freedom to write really interesting presentation titles? We can hear
naysayers, traditionalists, and the humor impaired individuals (see our column
in the Spring 1996 Psi Chi Newsletter) yelling, "The result would
be chaos! You cannot do this!" But suppose it were possible to use
creativity in writing titles. Moreover, suppose you could have a free hand in
writing abstracts. No more stilted, rigid, humorless titles and abstracts. You
might actually be able to say what you wanted in your own words.
guideline is this: Use a colon. The research attests to its benefits. For
example (and this is a real paper!), Dillon (1981) found that a colon was used
in 72% of article titles, and was associated with publishability, productivity,
complexity of thought, distinction of endeavor, and progress of the enterprise.
Wow, all that from a colon!
advantage of using colons in titles is such titles tend to be longer. This
leads to longer resumes and the appearance of a much more productive career. So
we encourage you to use the colon as often as possible. (Just look at the
titles of our columns!) We look forward to hearing presentations with titles
such as, "A Longitudinal Analysis of the Colon: It's Not Just Two
Periods," and "Hair: Does It Matter Where?"
This last title
leads to our second bit of advice: Try to put your titles in the form of a
question. (This is known as the Trebek Principle.) Surely you have
seen titles in the form of a question such as, "Does Psychosurgery
Influence the Course of Humor Impaired Personality Disorder?" Questions
seem to heighten interest. Another benefit of question titles is that the abstract
becomes much easier to write. Consider the following hypothetical article title
(which includes both the question and the colon) and abstract:
TITLE: Pets and
Pathology: Do Cats Reduce Reported
Symptoms Among Institutionalized Psychiatric Patients?
this title uses just a small amount of alliteration. Be careful about
alliteration. Too much can be a bad thing. Consider the following study of
cognitive deficits among clinical groups: "Processing Problems Pertaining
Primarily to Passionately Pro-Social Paranoid Personalities in Post-Industrial
Pennsylvania." Not only does such a title become boring, but you often
have to clean yourself up after you say it out loud.
titles should convey the substance of the presentation more directly than has
been the case in the past. Suppose John Watson and Rosalie Rayner had an iota
of creativity. Perhaps the title of their famous research would have been,
"Terrifying Children and Ethics Committees: Raising the Bar a Few
Decibels." Pavlov might have had a career in marketing if he had just
exhibited a little creativity. Here's a title that might have meant big bucks,
"Toning and Tuning: How to Control the Behavior of Others."
We also believe
that titles can be engaging without demeaning the long intellectual tradition
of our field. Titles (of actual papers) such as, "Out of the Frying Pan,
Into the Goalbox" and "In Search of the Abominable Consent
Form," can convey information and keep people awake at the same time.
review our proposal. We are suggesting that we continue the well-established
tendency to insert colons in the titles of presentations. The tendency to write
uninteresting, uninviting titles is well entrenched; but, we are optimists!
Using questions can help. But we suggest that from now on presentation titles
should be evaluated on two additional criteria:
(a) Do they
contain a modicum of creativity?
(b) Do they contain even microscopic traces of humor?
Should our new
guidelines be accepted, we predict the number of people attending sessions will
increase, the number of people sleeping through sessions will decrease, world
peace will break out, the stock market will hit 10,000, and an independent
prosecutor will be appointed to investigate this departure from tradition.
These outcomes will be described in a session titled, "On the Possibility
of Injecting Humor and Creativity Into Session Titles: Estimating the
Probability of Very Low Frequency Events." And here's our entire abstract:
J. T. (1981). The Emergence of the Colon: An Empirical Correlate of
Scholarship. American Psychologist, 36, 879-884.