Items for submitting your paper and more language – day 1: writing a title

Items for submitting your paper and more language – day 1: writing a title

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First impressions are important – everyone wants to make a good first impression. This is what you want to achieve with the title of your paper – a great first impression!

Your title will be read by many people; however, only a few people will choose to read your entire paper and this could be based solely on the title. This means you must choose the words in your title with care, to clearly and rapidly communicate the contents of your paper to a potential reader. The title of your paper is also important to search engines as the results returned by search engines will be largely determined by the title. Therefore, think about the key words carefully that you want to include to match searches.

You will have a limited number of words you can use. Journals often have strict word limits, or even a limit on the number of characters, that they will accept for a title. Again, you must choose your words carefully, for maximum impact.

There are a few key points to remember when writing your title:

  • Use the smallest number of words possible to describe the contents of your paper
  • Use specific terms rather than general or vague terms
  • The title should include several keywords, i.e. words of importance from the paper that will be picked up in internet searches
  • Avoid abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon
  • Avoid unnecessary words or phrases, such as “Research into…” or “Experiments to determine…”

Consider the following options for titles of the same study:

  • Effect of spray on solid particles
  • Research into the numerical simulation of the flow characteristics of solid particles when under the effect of a pressurized spray dust reduction device, based on CFD-DEM

These titles are both weak. The first example is very vague and does provide the reader with much information as to what the paper is about. The second title is very long, with unnecessary phrases such as “Research into”; it also includes the initialism “CFD-DEM”.

Here are three alternative titles for the same study:

  • Effect of pressurized spray dust reduction on solid particle flow characteristics
  • Can pressurized spray dust reduction improve solid particle flow characteristics?
  • Pressurized spray dust reduction improves solid particle flow characteristics

The first of these is referred to as a descriptive or neutral title. It contains keywords from the study, but it makes no judgement about the outcome of the study. The use of keywords is helpful to potential readers, but it also increases the visibility of the article in online search engines.

The second title is referred to as an interrogative title, as it contains a query – this could be the research question that the paper set out to answer.

Both versions are widely accepted types of titles. The third version is an example of a declarative title. This sets out the research question and answers it at the same time. Titles of this type are quite common. However, some people feel that this type of title reduces a reader’s curiosity, making them less likely to want to read the paper. Some people also feel that this type of title may suggest some degree of bias or exaggeration on the part of the author.

Further study for this week

If you have time for further study this week, have a go at writing a variety of titles for a paper you are working on, in the styles outlined above. Think about which type of title best suits your paper.

Alternatively, have a look at some papers from your field and think about the style of titles they have. Are the titles appropriate? Can you think of ways in which the titles could have been improved?

There is no quiz with this article.

Lesson tags: English for scientific research, Submitting your article, Writing a title
Back to: English for Scientists