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Do scholars follow Betteridge’s Law? The use of questions in journal article titles


  • James M. Cook

    () (University of Maine at Augusta)

  • Dawn Plourde

    (University of Maine at Augusta)


In journalistic publication, Betteridge’s Law of Headlines stipulates that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” When applied to the titles of academic publication, the assertion is referred to as Hinchcliffe’s Rule and denigrates the use of the question mark in titles as a “click-bait” marketing strategy. We examine the titles of all published articles in the year 2014 from five top-ranked and five mid-range journals in each of six academic fields (n = 7845). We describe the form of questions when they occur, and where a title poses a question that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” we note the article’s substantive answer. We do not find support for the criticism lodged by Betteridge’s Law and Hinchcliffe’s Rule. Although patterns vary by discipline, titles with questions are posed infrequently overall. Further, most titles with questions do not pose yes/no questions. Finally, the few questions that are posed in yes/no terms are actually more often answered with a “yes” than with a “no.” Concerns regarding click-bait questions in academic publications may, therefore, be unwarranted.

Suggested Citation

  • James M. Cook & Dawn Plourde, 2016. "Do scholars follow Betteridge’s Law? The use of questions in journal article titles," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 108(3), pages 1119-1128, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:scient:v:108:y:2016:i:3:d:10.1007_s11192-016-2030-2
    DOI: 10.1007/s11192-016-2030-2

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Buter, R.K. & van Raan, A.F.J., 2011. "Non-alphanumeric characters in titles of scientific publications: An analysis of their occurrence and correlation with citation impact," Journal of Informetrics, Elsevier, vol. 5(4), pages 608-617.
    2. Guerrero-Bote, Vicente P. & Moya-Anegón, Félix, 2012. "A further step forward in measuring journals’ scientific prestige: The SJR2 indicator," Journal of Informetrics, Elsevier, vol. 6(4), pages 674-688.
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    Cited by:

    1. Xuechun Xiang & Jing Li, 2020. "A diachronic comparative study of research article titles in linguistics and literature journals," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 122(2), pages 847-866, February.

    More about this item


    Articles; Titles; Questions; Research papers; Clickbait;

    JEL classification:

    • B00 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - General - - - History of Economic Thought, Methodology, and Heterodox Approaches


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