Choosing a title for your academic research paper
The title and abstract are critical elements to your paper. They will be used by readers to decide whether or not to read the rest of your paper; and, even before publication, they will be used by journal editors to decide whether or not your paper should be sent for peer review evaluation, and by peer reviewers to decide if they want to review your paper.
Here are some quick tips to help you to write a good, descriptive title for your paper:
1. Consider the journal
Before you write your title, read the Notes for Contributors for your target journal to be sure that you follow their recommendations, and that your article is relevant to the aims and scope of the journal.
2. Look at examples of published papers in your target journal(s) to help you consider the format and length, and type of keywords used
Look also at your reference list and articles you yourself searched for when conducting your research.
3. Be specific and descriptive
Think about what is the most important aspect of your paper – what does it help to demonstrate or add to understanding in your field? Focus on its impact.
Don’t use abbreviations unless they are very common in multidisciplinary contexts (like WHO, AIDS): readers could misunderstand or misinterpret them, even if they know the discipline.
Write out chemical names or disease names, microbial names etc. in full, rather than using formulae or abbreviations (unless your chosen journal specifically states different policies).
Include brief, specific description of the study group, organism or population
What is new or important about your study? Focus on the results and conclusions and what they show, but don’t overstate these unless you can confidently back up your statements with evidence.
Use words like ‘reduces’, or ‘accelerates’ rather than ‘affects’ – i.e. be descriptive about the nature of the affect you are showing.
Avoid using humor or hyperbole as these could show bias or be misinterpreted.
Avoid posing questions in titles unless a specific concept is being questioned.
Avoid using Roman numerals as these can be misinterpreted (e.g. Factor 3 vs Factor III).
4. Consider word choice and title length
There is no set rule about the ideal title length, and this can differ between disciplines, and even between journal and article types. However, there is some evidence that shorter titles which focus on results and conclusions have the greatest influence on readership, downloads and citations: see for example Paiva et al.: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22666797.
Use the ‘passive voice’ as a way to help reduce word count, e.g. consider rewording ‘X is reduced by Y’ to ‘Y reduces X’, which also helps put the emphasis on the agent causing the action.
As mentioned above, it is better to write out names and abbreviations in full, so consider how to use these within the title.
Consider using a thesaurus to help with word count reduction and using words that are better in a scientific context (e.g. ‘accelerates’ is preferable to ‘speeds up’; ‘demonstrates’ is preferable to ‘shows’; ‘efficacy’ is preferable to ‘effectiveness’, particularly in clinical and pharmacological contexts).