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I am writing an academic paper with some co-authors and we are thinking of including a word in parentheses in the title. So the title would look something like

XXXX (YYYY?) XXXX

I have two questions:

  1. Is there any style issue/argument against this? The fact that I need to ask this question in the first place leads me to believe that there is. But I thought I would ask since this may just be a rare occurrence and may not violate any writing/style rules.

  2. In case it is okay, would it be okay for the title to start with the parentheses?

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    If the question mark is part of the title, it makes it more informal sounding. This is common in some fields (e.g. Computer Science security), but might not be in yours. – Ric Nov 22 '15 at 18:05
  • Thanks for the answer Ric, question marks and relatively informal titles are common and acceptable in my field (economics - I realized I forgot to mention it). – mfariacastro Nov 22 '15 at 18:13
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There are many papers out there with parentheses in my title. In particular, there are at least three articles (from different publishers) starting with a parenthesis:

Thus, there is at least some publishers who do not object to this.

On the other hand, this probably does not hold for all publishers, and there very likely is at least one out there, who objects against parentheses in titles.

Unless there is a clear rule in the publisher’s guidelines, it will be impossible to predict its opinion on this matter. Thus, I would suggest to just use the parentheses and let the publisher or the copy editor, respectively, worry about this.

  • Thank you very much for the answer, and for the examples. I am sure that some publishers will object to it. I mostly wanted to gauge whether this is an absolute no-no or if it could be deemed acceptable. – mfariacastro Nov 22 '15 at 18:14
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    @mfariacastro In the worst case, the publisher will tell you to remove the parentheses, that is, you surely don't risk rejection for this. As Wrzlprmft suggests, use them and let the copy editor worry about that. – Massimo Ortolano Nov 22 '15 at 18:43
  • The definition of a good paper title is not "one that my publisher did not object to." Personally I think these titles are horrible (no offense - I know nothing about the field and haven't looked at the papers, which for all I know are Nobel-prize worthy). In addition to the clunky parenthesized adjective, the middle one actually contains a semicolon! Methinks these authors may be good scientists but could use more than a little polishing of their marketing skills. – Dan Romik Nov 22 '15 at 19:16
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    @DanRomik: I am no expert on these very papers either, but the alternative to (patho)physiological is almost certainly physiological and pathophysiological (no, just physiological won’t do), which is more clunky in my opinion. I do not think debating the latter is any useful, as we are in pure opinion territory. – Wrzlprmft Nov 22 '15 at 19:31
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    @Wrzlprmft (pseudo)okay. – Dan Romik Nov 22 '15 at 19:40
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The main stylistic argument against the use of parentheses in a paper title is that parentheses are an expository device that should be used very sparingly, even in the body of a paper or other text. I learned this the hard way: for many years I had a bad habit of injecting too many parenthetical clauses into my writing. At some point I became aware of this and started making a conscious effort to replace any use of parentheses with an equivalent non-parenthetical statement, and found that in 90% of the cases doing so made sense, was easy to achieve, and improved the presentation. Overall I feel that my writing has greatly improved thanks to this small change, and I would recommend to anybody to follow the same guideline that parentheses are like a strong spice, to be used in moderation and only when there is a very good reason to do so.

With that said, I have used parentheses in the title of one of my own papers (the idea of one of my coauthors, but not necessarily a bad one), and think that this is fine if it serves some clear purpose and done in good taste. As others have commented, it may be done to lend the title a slightly more informal feel, or to inject a pun or a bit of humor, or to add some important qualifier to the main statement of the title, e.g., "The infinite-dimensional halting problem is (almost) undecidable."

Finally, I do think using parentheses at the beginning of the title is almost certainly a very bad idea. Parentheses by their nature are just a little bit distracting, and the beginning of the title of your paper is the last place where you want to distract your reader's attention. The title should have a strong, punchy start that pushes the reader along and helps them to appreciate what your paper is about; see a related discussion here. Moreover, another small principle of good scientific writing is that sentences in general, and titles in particular, should not start with punctuation marks of any sort (or with mathematical symbols), so that's another reason why parentheses would be bad at the beginning of the title.

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    Thank you so much for your feedback. I am happy to use the parentheses at this stage, but am still not totally comfortable to use them to start the title, so I may just decide to rewrite it in a clever manner. – mfariacastro Nov 22 '15 at 22:40
  • @mfariacastro - It does sound like a good idea to at least try to recast. Even if you go back to the first version of the title, you may realize something interesting about your topic while trying. – aparente001 Nov 24 '15 at 22:48

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