“Little Mermaid’s umbrella turns up in the Andamans”.

What does this title say to you? If you saw it turning up in your local paper, accompanied by a photo of an interesting plant, would you want to click and read more?

For us, this title made us think “Ooh, the Little Mermaid’s umbrella! What’s that?” and as a result, we learned about a new species of algae. It turns out that the umbrella-like cap of the species, which was found on the Island of Andaman & Nicobar, is the first of the genus Acetabularia to be discovered in India.

The new algae species has been named ‘Acetabularia jalakanyakae’, after the Sanskrit word ‘Jalakanyaka’ meaning the ‘goddess of oceans’ or ‘mermaid’, and was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s fictional mermaid in his fairy tale, The Little Mermaid.

So back to titles: different titles will excite different audiences. Let’s compare a few titles about the same research to see how this might work.

One paper, three different approaches to titles

“Little Mermaid’s umbrella turns up in the Andamans” is probably perfect for non-experts and arousing curiosity in the so-called “general public”. It creates an visual image in the mind of the reader of a mythical sea creature holding an umbrella, which makes sense given the umbrella-like head of the species and its scientific name, which readers can learn more about if they are inspired to click.

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“Algae with umbrella-like head, discovered on Andaman Island” is a bit less fanciful but not too technical: still appealing to a broad audience, but perhaps one a little less interested in aligning science with fantasy literature!

View original article

“New Species of Green Alga Discovered” might excite biologists, especially those studying aglae, but for anyone else, there is unlikely to be a good reason to read more unless the accompanying image or illustration is compelling.

View original article


So what can we take away from this little exploration of mermaids’ umbrellas, algae, titles, and science communication?

1. Titles are important.
If you want people to read more than the title, tailoring it to your audience is key.

2. A fun title can encourage non-experts to delve a little deeper and learn more about the science itself.
And if you are want to reach non-experts, then this is a marvellous thing!

3. Using a title to create a visual image in the minds of potential readers can be compelling.
This needs to be done carefully, however, so that the imagery you conjure up aligns with your article.

And that’s it!

What do you think about the different titles used to introduce this discovery?