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Open Access Publication in the Spotlight (February) - 'Another article titled "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" or, the mass production of academic research titles'

Date:20 February 2023
Author:Open Access Team
Open access publication in the spotlight: February 2023
Open access publication in the spotlight: February 2023

Each month, the open access team of the University of Groningen Library (UB) puts a recent open access article by UG authors in the spotlight. This publication is highlighted via social media and the library’s newsletter and website.

The article in the spotlight for the month of February 2023 is titled Another article titled “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” or, the mass production of academic research titles, written by Jaap Nieuwenhuis (assistant professor at the Sociology department, Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences).


What kinds of titles are appropriate for research articles? Does creativity have a place in titles or should titles be descriptive and scientific? This article examines the 408 articles titled “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” and asks why there are so many articles with the same title. The academic culture of publication pressure can lead to researchers choosing creative titles, including popular song titles, to stand out from the crowd. Furthermore, risk assessment leads researchers to choose the same songs as others, because well-known, easy-to-understand cultural references are better rewarded than more obscure references. The collective outcome of this, many researchers choosing the same title for their articles, reflects the mass production of cultural products, wherein creativity is standardized and panders to the largest possible audience.

We asked author Jaap Nieuwenhuis a few questions about the article:

Do you think that striving to market one’s research and make it stand out in the crowd is ultimately detrimental to science? If so, what solution(s) do you propose?

I do think that it is detrimental, indeed. As the paper shows, the articles are not necessarily cited a lot in comparison with similar papers, indicating that despite the interesting title, the content might not be that interesting at all. Maybe it’s time to step away from the New Public Management style of running academia and to make numerical indicators of success less important.

What does an ideal article title look like, which elements would be included (or not)? What advice would you give to fellow scientists?

There have been many articles written about titles and what works or doesn’t, for example, colons might lead to less readers, as well as a geographical indicator, a very long title is also detrimental. One could probably do a literature review of all these studies and calculate the optimal title configuration. However, this sounds very much like trying to game the system, which perhaps should not be the focus of individual scientists. My advice would be to do whatever you feel is right. Personally, I like to see the main topic/finding in the title, so that I know what the article is about. But if you want to be more creative, then why not? I admit I also have a few titles like that. In that case I would suggest to google the title first, because I would say that “Should I stay or should I go?” can now be omitted as a viable option. A colleague from the cultural geography department pointed out that Charles Dickens’ “A tale of two cities” is also quite overused. It seems that every paper that ever compared two cities has used this title. In the end, no more creative titles would also be boring, but try not to end up on the “Stay or go”-pile or something similar.

You obviously have a keen eye for interesting and original article titles. Do you have one or more favorites? 

I quite like “Fuck nuance” by Kieran Healy. It stands out for obvious reasons, but it also conveys exactly what the article is about to discuss.

Another one is “Can a good philosophical contribution be made just by asking a question?”, not because the title is so great, but because the title is the entire article. The title in combination with the blank page that follows makes this title work very well.

Which song would you like to use in an article title someday? 

I think it would have to be from a band or musician that I actually like. For example, I don’t particularly enjoy listening to The Clash, so I would probably not use “Should I stay or should I go?”. I’d be tempted to use a title from Einstürzende Neubauten, Sonic Youth, Mayhem, or Otomo Yoshihide, but I haven’t come across a suitable title in their work yet. Because much of my research deals with geographically defined spaces such as neighborhoods, perhaps one day I’ll be able to use “Space is the place” by Sun Ra and his Arkestra.

Could you reflect on your experiences with open access and open science in general?

As many are, I am also a big fan of open science, however, I believe it is still very much a system in need of improvement. Firstly, at all Dutch universities I have been employed at, there was always the VSNU open access deal with big publishers or a university open access fund for publishers without such a deal. During my time working in China this deal did not exist, so my papers from that time are not published open access. This is of course just anecdotal, but research shows that authors from low-income countries are underrepresented in open access publishing. So, this model introduces a new form of academic inequality to the world.

And secondly, the way that open access publishing is currently organized is just a business model that eats up a lot of public money. For-profit publishing should not have a place in academia. A best practice example is the important journal Demography, which withdrew from Springer a few years ago and went full open access at a nonprofit university press. They have fee waivers for scholars without funding, which also (partly) solves my first concern.

Useful links:

Open access journal browser: search engine that can be used to check if a discount on the article processing charge (APC) is available for a specific journal. UG corresponding authors can publish with an APC discount (mostly 100%, so for free) in more than 12.000 journals!

In addition to the national VSNU agreements, the UG and the UMCG have negotiated a series of open access agreements in their own right.


Jaap Nieuwenhuis (2022) Another article titled “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” or, the mass production of academic research titles, The Information Society, DOI: 10.1080/01972243.2022.2152916 

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About the author

Open Access Team
The Open Access team of the University of Groningen Library

Link: /openaccess