It's common in the scientific literature to read somewhat unattractive titles of the form "X as Y" or "X as (a way of doing/understanding) Y". The longer the title the more unattractive it gets:

FOXP2 as [a molecular window into] language (here)

Linkage disequilibrium as [a signature of] selective sweeps (here)

Kidney disease as a risk factor for development of cardiovascular diseases (here)

Nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region as a universal DNA barcode marker for Fungi (here)

This seems like a compact way of saying something like "(We may view) FOXP2 as a molecular window into language", "Linkage disequilibrium (may be used) as a signature of selective sweeps". But because it's not a complete sentence it's heavy on the reader. I, for my part, am a near-native English speaker and whenever the sentence is as long as the last example given above, I must reread it two or three times to understand what it's talking about.

This kind of "sentence" is also extremely common in PowerPoint presentations. Why do people do this and how can they do it better?

  • Titles and headlines aren't obliged to follow rules of grammar. They are a matter of style and continuance of a style is determined by acceptability. Apparently this is the norm (ergo, acceptable). – Canis Lupus Mar 14 '17 at 19:19
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    The titles are describing surveys, observations, experiments, data analyses and the like. So the expanded titles would be 'Investigating the use of linkage disequilibrium as a signature of selective sweeps' etc. But aren't the titles long enough already? For intricate specialist investigations, unwieldy titles are near-essential (at least). – Edwin Ashworth Mar 14 '17 at 20:14

Titles of the form "X as Y" are playing it safe, and who can blame them?

There is something, perhaps modesty, perhaps fear, that keeps researchers from saying what they mean. Thus, the common form, Toward a better understanding of the savant brain, instead of the title "The discovery of a better understanding of the savant brain." More radical yet, "The recommendation of newer MR imaging of the savant brain."

Such a study will not say how good the new idea is for concern that others will give them a hard time:

"Objectives of this study are to investigate ...; to place these findings within the context of existing ...; and to discuss the utility of newer imaging modalities to extend our current understanding ..."

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