A poorly chosen article title may make a paper difficult to discover or discourage readership when discovered, reducing an article's impact. Yet, it is unclear how the structure of a manuscript's title influences readership and impact. We used manuscript tracking data for all manuscripts submitted to the journal Functional Ecology from 2004 to 2013 and citation data for papers published in this journal from 1987 to 2011 to examine how title features changed and whether a manuscript's title structure was predictive of success during the manuscript review process and/or impact (citation) after publication. Titles of manuscripts submitted to Functional Ecology became marginally longer (after controlling for other variables), broader in focus (less frequent inclusion of genus and species names), and included more humor and subtitles over the period of the study. Papers with subtitles were less likely to be rejected by editors both pre- and post-peer review, although both effects were small and the presence of subtitles in published papers was not predictive of citations. Papers with specific names of study organisms in their titles fared poorly during editorial (but not peer) review and, if published, were less well cited than papers whose titles did not include specific names. Papers with intermediate length titles were more successful during editorial review, although the effect was small and title word count was not predictive of citations. No features of titles were predictive of reviewer willingness to review papers or the length of time a paper was in peer review. We conclude that titles have changed in structure over time, but features of title structure have only small or no relationship with success during editorial review and post-publication impact. The title feature that was most predictive of manuscript success: papers whose titles emphasize broader conceptual or comparative issues fare better both pre- and post-publication than do papers with organism-specific titles.

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Published in Ecology and Evolution, v. 5, no. 10, p. 1970-1980.

© 2015 The Authors.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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This research was funded in part by the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station.