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I’m sure you have seen several papers with a colon in its title, e.g., this example I just made up:

Traffic control in a network: a new method towards X.

I’m wondering if this way of titling is recommended and what is the correct way of using colon in the title?

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    I would assume that researchers use titles with a ":" simply whenever they feel that they are good titles, without having sticking to some kind of rules, style guides, or general recommendations.
    – DCTLib
    Aug 6, 2015 at 13:22
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    There is a good (brief) reference on titular colonicity here
    – ff524
    Aug 6, 2015 at 13:30
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about English grammar, not academia. Aug 6, 2015 at 13:53
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    Best used within the format: "semi-related pun or jokette: ok but no seriously this is what the paper's about"
    – blmoore
    Aug 6, 2015 at 15:22
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    When you don't want so many people to read it! At least according to this paper :-) Sorry, just couldn't help it. From its abstract: "Titles with colon tended to be longer and receive fewer downloads and citations. "
    – Szabolcs
    Aug 6, 2015 at 19:56

2 Answers 2

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The format "Broad title: more specific but not sub- title" is quite commonly used. The first part is normally worded to attract the attention of a broad field while the second gives some detail of what the paper (or equivalent) is about.

There are a couple of reasons for doing this compared to an approach that would fit better in a normal sentence:

  • It's likely to be shorter - the colon isn't just splicing 2 titles together but implying that one is applied to the other in some way. It's also possible to imply a stronger relationship in the title than might be strictly justifiable (by omission).
  • The first part is chosen to grab the reader's attention, as some journal article titles are long enough to bore you before you've finished reading them.

Dashes are also used in a similar way (usually a spaced en-dash)

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Do whatever is most prevalent in your target journal.

This is a convention of academic publishing.

For a while, two of the major competing medical journals, The Lancet and the BMJ, had different policies on title colons: one journal had colons in most of its titles; the other had colons in very few. If you submitted an article with a title containing a colon, to the wrong journal, it would seriously dent your chance of the article getting submitted.

As with all aspects of language, context is crucial.

In this case, the context is other titles in your target journal. So be consistent with them. Go through the 100 most recently-accepted published papers, and count how many have a colon in the title. If it's over 55, use a colon, if it's under 45, don't. And if it's between, do as you wish.

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