Choosing the right title for your research paper can be the deciding factor in whether it gets published or not. At a time when ‘clickbait’ headlines are rampant, deciding on a title for your research paper can be stressful.
Well-established guidelines for the titles of academic writing can help narrow your title options down until you find the perfect balance. But first, why are titles so important?
What’s in a Name?
“That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet” is a famous line from Romeo and Juliet. William Shakespeare wrote his famous play in the 16th century, but it’s still quoted today. The most popular interpretation of that line is that names don’t matter. But they do. In fact, their respective names are ultimately what caused Romeo and Juliet’s tragic end.
When it comes to the written format, the name (title) is almost always the first thing people read. If something in the name sparks an interest, they will continue reading. If not, they will move on to the next thing.
As more researchers use social media to promote their articles, keywords and an attention-grabbing title increase the chances of going viral.
Conversely, an exaggerated, bombastic title could put off traditional readers, as well as journal editors. Essentially, you want a catchy but refined title. How do authors find that balance?
The Basic Rules of Research Titles
Luckily, there are rules academic writers can follow that will guide them in choosing how to title their paper. What are the dos and don'ts of research titles?
● Use action words. Active verbs will help make the title ‘pop.’
● Use less than 15 words in your title. Academic research titles are generally 13-15 words or 100 characters.
● Use correct grammar. Article words, prepositions, and conjunction words aren’t capitalized. The first word of a subtitle is capitalized. Use APA grammar guidelines.
● Use keywords from research. If possible, sprinkle a few keywords from your article in the title to help with SEO.
● Use journal guidelines. Learn the guidelines of the journal you’re submitting your paper to, and make sure you are following instructions.
Don’t Do This
● Use abbreviations. Abbreviations, roman numerals, and acronyms should be avoided in titles.
● Use conjunctions “study of,” “results of,” etc.
● Use periods, semicolons, or exclamation marks. Colons are used if you include a subtitle.
● Use full scientific names. Instead of using complex scientific names, shorten them or avoid them.
● Use chemical formulas. Replace chemical formulas in the title with their common name.
Your research title should be accessible and easily understood by everyone, even those outside the academic community. What else makes a dynamic title for your research paper?
How to Choose a Title for Your Paper
The first title you give your paper likely won’t be the last. Give your research paper a working title that reflects the nature of the topic. The working title will help you keep your writing focused on the topic at hand.
A good research title has three components:
- What is the purpose of the research?
- What tone is the paper taking?
- What research methods were used?
The answers to those three questions will anchor your paper and will inform your title.
You can also seek suggestions about the title from your direct peers and mentor.
The main factor in an academic research paper title is that it accurately but briefly depicts the scope and subject of the research.
Do You Need a Subtitle?
Research papers often have long titles divided by a colon. Is the secondary part, the subtitle, necessary? That depends on your main title. Is it enough to catch the attention of readers while giving enough context to the topic of the article?
Subtitles are useful for providing more details about your paper to pique interest, but they aren’t necessary.
After all your hard work on the research paper, the title may be the only thing anyone reads. Choose your title wisely.