Give us the title!

I have made this point in passing before, but I will reiterate it in its own post in the vague hope that science writers will get the message (or perhaps that other bloggers will pick up the issue).

When you write a story about a recent discovery, whether for a magazine, an online news service, or a blog, please give us the title and as much other information as you can about the article so that we can look up the original. A footnote at the end would go a long way. Online, there are no constraints on page space, so this should be straightforward to implement.

I am getting frustrated with the usual “… which will appear this week in Nature” or “… to be published online in the next issue of PNAS”. Don’t you know that this almost instantly becomes dated and uninformative? Are you unaware that readers may come across your story even years from now, and that it is a substantial pain to go from the date of your entry and try to find which paper came out in the online pre-publication version of the journal shortly thereafter? Yes, we can search author names, but we shouldn’t have to.

Maybe this is not the writers’ fault. It could be that journals provide only summaries to writers without any information on the actual reference. However, many stories in the larger media include interviews with the author(s). Maybe the last question could be “Hey, what’s your paper called?”. And to press offices: you should give the title too.

I am sure that many, maybe most, readers of science news stories do not look up the original article. But some of us do. In this sense, having the summary stories serving as a gateway to the actual paper would be helpful.