The Society for Research into Higher Education

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In the duck house

By Paul Temple

Last autumn, David Palfreyman and I completed our book Universities and Colleges in the OUP “Very Short Introduction” series by compiling the index. It’s a sign of how fast things have changed that if we were preparing the index now, just a few months later, I think that one entry would have to be on the lines of “Greed, vice-chancellors, accusations of.” How on earth have we got to this?

Our late and much-missed friend and colleague, David Watson, would, I am certain, be incandescent with fury at how some of his fellow vice-chancellors have allowed Robert Halfon MP, Chair of the Commons Education Select Committee, plausibly to compare some vice-chancellors’ expenses claims with episodes from the 2009 Parliamentary expenses scandal. Halfon picked out the £1600 that Surrey University had paid to relocate its new VC’s dog from Australia, comparing it to the notorious “floating duck island” which, as it happens, cost the same. As with the duck-house, it’s the pettiness, the bathos – not to mention the comedic potential – that catch the attention. Was there nobody at Surrey able to say, “Vice-Chancellor, this really won’t be a good look if (when) it comes out”? And if not, shouldn’t there have been? Continue reading

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Where have all the questions gone?

By James Hartley

In an earlier blog (SRHE News, April 2017) I reported that the titles of articles in the field of higher education fell into three categories – ones with colons (60%), ones with statements (30%) and ones with questions (10%).  In this blog I note that the dearth of titles written in the form of questions is much more common than I thought.

Table 1 below shows the numbers (and percentages) of titles written in the form of questions in an assortment of publications and disciplines.  (Further details are provided in Hartley 2018a, b, and Hartley and Morgan, 2018.)

It can be seen, with this sample of 950 titles, that only 77 (8%) of them were written in the form of questions.  Even this figure, however, is much higher than the 2.3% reported by Cook and Plourde (2016), who studied 7,845 such titles in sixty academic journals.

Table 1.  The numbers (and percentages) of recent article or book titles with question marks.


Source    No of titles No of titles with ?s %
New Scientist 48 8 17
London Review of Books 57 0 0
Times Literary Supplement 48 8 17
Psychology PhD Theses 100 6 6
Psychology Journals 380 23 6
History Journals 187 31 17
Postscript (a book catalogue) 130 1 0.76
Overall 950 77 8

Titles with questions can frequently be answered ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or (more typically in Education and Psychology) ‘it all depends’. In the field of journalism Betteridge (2009) postulated a witty law that stated that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word ‘No’” (Betteridge, 2009).  This, however, is not the case here.  Indeed, Cook & Plourde (2016) reported in their study of such titles in academic articles that most of them were more often answered with a “Yes” rather than a “No”.

Posing a question in the title is often seen as a way of drawing the readers’ attention to the issue in hand.  I find it surprising that it is not done more often. Any comments?

SRHE member James Hartley is emeritus professor, School of Psychology, Keele University.



Betteridge, I (2009)  ‘TechCrunch: Irresponsible journalism’

Cook, JM and Plourde, D (2016) ‘Do scholars follow Betteridge’s Law? The use of questions in journal article titles’ Scientometrics 108: 1119-1128

Hartley, J (2017) ‘What works for you?  The choice of titles for academic articles in higher education’  SRHE News, April 2017: 19-22

Hartley, J (2018a) ‘Are psychologists afraid of asking questions?’ (Paper available from the author.)

Hartley, J (2018b) ‘Choosing a title for your thesis. What are the most frequent formats?’  (Paper available from the author.)

Hartley, J and Morgan P (2018) ‘Are historians afraid of posing questions? The titles of articles in history journals’  (Paper available from the authors.)