Karen Hellekson’s Call for the Humanities to Learn from the Sciences on Titles and Abstracts

Karen Hellekson, one of my dear SFRA friends and the editor of the first book that I had an article appear in, rallies the humanities troops in favor of useful and direct abstracts and titles. She begins her stirring call for more description and information in those tiny signposts that lead others to our work by writing:

A recent spate of research I’m conducting, which has included some data input into Zotero, has only reaffirmed my belief that the sciences can teach the humanities much. I’m not just talking about quick peer review turnaround times and wait times to publication that don’t stretch into years. I’m talking about something simple, something basic: abstracts and titles.

Admittedly I am coming at this from the point of view of an unaffiliated scholar. Getting access to texts is a huge chore. I can’t just magically obtain something and flip through it to see if it’s what I need. I have to research it first, then decide if I want it, and then decide if it rates being one of the five books I can request at one time. I can’t possibly be the only person who wishes that I could figure out what something was about without actually having to read it.

Heed my call, journals and scholars in the humanities! Abstracts and titles. Please, I beg you, make them count. Let’s follow the example of the sciences here.

Karen: I heed your call.

via Humanities, meet the sciences! « Karen Hellekson.

I am a professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on 20th/21st-century American culture, science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology.

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One comment on “Karen Hellekson’s Call for the Humanities to Learn from the Sciences on Titles and Abstracts
  1. Andrew says:

    This is a really interesting point to consider. I hate getting half-way through a book or article to find that it has nothing to do with what I thought it was about or am interested in. I wonder if this phenomenon is part of the halfway point the humanities find themselves: while we want to be serious research scholars, there’s also an element of creativity to our work, which often results in creative titles instead of explicitly clear titles. Further, I wonder if this results from the knowledge ecology of the humanities: we actually don’t *have* to read other peoples’ work to do our research, so our work has to have a “sexy” title to attract readers.

    Either way, I want to experiment with writing clearer titles, now.

    (Actually, I wonder if this change was made how many articles would have titles like “This Article Isn’t Actually About Anything”? … =) ).

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Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.


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