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February 02, 2012


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James Grimmelmann

I favor short and descriptive. A good title should make the paper's main idea immediately apparent. Yes, some papers have complicated arguments, but no one should ever have to struggle to parse the title. It's worth sweating the title for a long time: make every character count. Much better to have people remember the article by its name, rather than by an approximate description of its idea, or (worse) by the name of the law review it was published in. A colon is usually an admission of failure.

Generally, humor falls flat. (As much as I wish "Tournament of Lawyers" had been called "Tourney of Attorneys," I recognize that it's a worse title.) I've made occasional exceptions -- a colleague suggested that I rename "Facebook and the Social Dynamics of Privacy" to "Saving Facebook," and he was right. But there is no better way to make your article look like student work than to give it a strained pun followed by a long, awkward exegesis (for maximum effect, one in the form of a question).

Ed Anderson

I endeavor to include all the subject areas of law addressed in the article so it easily can be found using those subject areas as search terms. Most of my writing concerns a rather arcane subject, but there is a lot of overlap with agency, environmental and contractual law and I always include these subjects (or the relevant elements) in the title in order to reach as broad an audience as possible.

I agree that puns rarely work. It's good to remember that the editors have probably been subjected to dozens of pun and pun-like titles over a very short period of time. They aren't laughing any more.

RA Robbins

Great topic. I have read a few cognitive psych articles about headings, which I think probably applies to titles too. They are called "advanced organizers" and they set up expectations about themes and gestalt. I agree that bad puns or forced metaphors or cliches are distracting and detracting (which, metaphor scholars would tell us is to be expected of forced or cliche material).

I am an editor of a peer-reviwed journal that has a very large distribution to practitioners and judges. We ask for clarity in titles, and many of our most successful articles also have used a catchy opening. Not puns. Sometimes pop culture references. But, we mostly tend to see different stylistic techniques such as alliteration or assonance or slightly more subtle liteary allusions. "Tourney of Attorneys" would definitely work as a title for us because of its assonance.


I'm with James--short and descriptive, also (hopefully) memorable. To give a couple of examples, I will always remember Sunstein's "Chevron Step Zero," whose basic argument I can describe from the title alone. Plus, I end up associating with Sunstein an idea he explicitly borrowed from Merrill. On the other hand, one of my favorite articles is also (I think) one of the worst-titled: Benkler, "Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm." The title is built on a pair of inside jokes, more or less, and it led Benkler to add an explanatory footnote up front. If you need a paragraph to explain the title, it can't be good. That said, those of us who love the article end up remembering it once we figure out the joke, since it is descriptive if you know what he's talking about.

Also, for placement purposes, short and descriptive sounds like a bigger deal and can often land you a better journal.

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