Choosing a research title
CHOOSING A RESEARCH TITLE
How to choose a title
Characteristics of a good title
Types of titles
Drafting a suitable title
The first thing journal editors and reviewers will see upon receiving your research paper
is the title, and will immediately form a view on what they should expect in your research
paper. Moreover, the tile of your research paper is the only aspect that will be freely
available to readers through search engines or indexing databases. It is therefore
imperative that you write a clear, persuasive title that leads readers to know more about
A title is the main organizing principle guiding the analysis of your research paper. Titles
offer us an occasion for writing and a focus that governs what we want to say. Titles
represent the core subject matter of scholarly communication, and the means by which
we arrive at other topics of conversations and discover new knowledge.
HOW TO BEGIN: YOUR PROFESSOR LEAVES IT UP TO YOU
TO CHOOSE A TOPIC
1. Under this scenario, the key process is turning an idea or general thought into a
topic that can be cast as a research problem. When given an assignment where you
choose the research topic, don’t begin by thinking about what to write about, but
rather, ask yourself the question, “What do I want to know?” Treat an open-ended
assignment as an opportunity to learn about something that’s new or exciting to you.
2. If you lack ideas, or wish to gain focus, try some or all of the following strategies:
Review your course readings, particularly the suggested readings, for topic ideas.
Don’t just review what you’ve already read but jump ahead in the syllabus to
readings that have not been covered yet.
Search the library Catalog for a good, recent introductory book and, if
appropriate, more specialized works related to the discipline area of the course.
Browse through some current journals in your subject discipline. Even if most
of the articles are not relevant, you can skim through the contents quickly. You
only need one to be the spark that begins the process of wanting to learn more
about a topic. Consult a librarian or your professor about the core journals within
your subject discipline.
Think about essays you have written for past classes and other coursework you
have taken or academic lectures and programs you have attended. Thinking back,
what most interested you? What would you like to know more about?
Search online media sources, such as Journals, Book Reviews, Seminar
Publications, Research Articles or Newspaper Articles, to see if your idea has
been covered in the news. Use this coverage to refine your idea into something
that you’d like to investigate further but in a more deliberate, scholarly way based
on a problem to research.
3. To build upon your initial idea, use the suggestions below to help narrow, broaden,
or increase the timeliness of your idea so you can write it out as a research problem.
TIPS ON WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER TITLE
When you are searching for a research study on a particular topic, you probably notice
that articles with interesting, descriptive research titles draw you in. By
contrast, research paper titles that are not descriptive are usually passed over, even
though they may be good research papers with interesting contents. This shows the
importance of coming up with a good title for your research paper when drafting your
WHY DO RESEARCH TITLES MATTER?
Before we look at how to title a research paper, let’s look at a research title example that
illustrates why a good research paper should have a strong title.
Imagine that you are researching meditation and nursing, and you want to find out if
any studies have shown that meditation makes nurses better communicators. You
conduct a keyword search using the keywords “nursing”, “communication”, and
“meditation.” You come up with results that have the following titles:
1. Benefits of Meditation for the Nursing Profession: A Quantitative Investigation
2. Why Mindful Nurses Make the Best Communicators
3. Meditation Gurus
4. Nurses on the Move: A Quantitative Report on How Meditation Can Improve
All four of these titles may describe very similar studies—they could even be titles for
the same study! As you can see, they give very different impressions.
Title 1 describes the topic and the method of the study but is not particularly
Title 2 partly describes the topic, but does not give any information about the
method of the study—it could simply be a theoretical or opinion piece.
Title 3 is somewhat catchier but gives almost no information at all about the
Title 4 begins with a catchy main title and is followed by a subtitle that gives
information about the content and method of the study.
As we will see, Title 4 has all the characteristics of a good research title.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A GOOD RESEARCH TITLE
According to rhetoric scholars Hairston and Keene, making a good title for a paper
involves ensuring that the title of the research accomplishes four goals as mentioned
1. It should predict the content of the research paper.
2. It should be interesting to the reader.
3. It should reflect the tone of the writing.
4. It should contain important keywords that will make it easier to be located
during a keyword search.
Let’s return to the examples in the previous section to see if they meet these four
Benefits of Meditation for the Nursing
Why Mindful Nurses Make the Best
Nurses on the Move: A Quantitative
Report on How Meditation Can
Improve Nurse Performance
As you can see in the table above, only one of the four example titles fulfills all of the
criteria of a suitable research paper title.
TIPS FOR WRITING AN EFFECTIVE RESEARCH PAPER
When writing a research title, you can use the four criteria listed above as a guide. Here
are a few other tips you can use to make sure your title will be part of the recipe for
an effective research paper:
1. Make sure your research title describes (a) the topic, (b) the method, (c) the
sample, and (d) the results of your study. You can use the following formula:
(Result): A (Method) study of (topic) among (Sample)
Example: Mediation makes nurses perform better: a qualitative study of
mindfulness mediation among Kenyan nursing students
2. Avoid unnecessary words and jargons. Keep the title statement as concise as
possible. You want a title that will be comprehensible even to people who are
not experts in your field. Check our article for a detailed list of things to avoid
when writing an effective research title.
3. Make sure your title is between 5 and 15 words in length.
4. If you are writing a title for a university assignment or for a particular academic
journal, verify that your title conforms to the standards and requirements for that
outlet. For example, many journals require that titles fall under a character limit,
including spaces. Many universities require that titles take a very specific form,
limiting your creativity.
5. Use a descriptive phrase to convey the purpose of your research efficiently.
6. Most importantly, use critical keywords in the title to increase the discoverability
of your article.
TYPES OF TITLES
Titles can be descriptive, declarative, or interrogative. They can also be classified as
nominal, compound, or full-sentence titles.
DESCRIPTIVE OR NEUTRAL TITLE
This has the essential elements of the research theme, that is, the patients/subjects,
design, interventions, comparisons/control, and outcome, but does not reveal the main
result or the conclusion. Such a title allows the reader to interpret the findings of the
research paper in an impartial manner and with an open mind. These titles also give
complete information about the contents of the article, have several keywords (thus
increasing the visibility of the article in search engines), and have increased chances of
being read and (then) being cited as well. Hence, such descriptive titles giving a glimpse
of the paper are generally preferred.
This title states the main finding of the study in the title itself; it reduces the curiosity
of the reader, may point toward a bias on the part of the author, and hence is best
This is the one which has a query or the research question in the title. Though a query
in the title has the ability to sensationalize the topic, and has more downloads (but less
citations), it can be distracting to the reader and is again best avoided for a research
article (but can, at times, be used for a review article).
From a sentence construct point of view, titles may be nominal (capturing only the main
theme of the study), compound (with subtitles to provide additional relevant
information such as context, design, location/country, temporal aspect, sample size,
importance, and a provocative or a literary; for example, see the title of this review), or
full-sentence titles (which are longer and indicate an added degree of certainty of the
results). Any of these constructs may be used depending on the type of article, the key
message, and the author’s preference or judgement.
DRAFTING A SUITABLE TITLE
A stepwise process can be followed to draft the appropriate title. The author should
describe the paper in about three sentences, avoiding the results and ensuring that these
sentences contain important scientific words/keywords that describe the main contents
and subject of the paper. Then the author should join the sentences to form a single
sentence, shorten the length (by removing redundant words or adjectives or phrases),
and finally edit the title (thus drafted) to make it more accurate, concise (about 10–15
words), and precise. Some journals require that the study design be included in the title,
and this may be placed (using a colon) after the primary title.
The title should try to incorporate the Patients, Interventions, Comparisons and
Outcome (PICO). The place of the study may be included in the title (if absolutely
necessary), that is, if the patient characteristics (such as study population,
socioeconomic conditions, or cultural practices) are expected to vary as per the country
(or the place of the study) and have a bearing on the possible outcomes. Lengthy titles
can be boring and appear unfocused, whereas very short titles may not be representative
of the contents of the article; hence, optimum length is required to ensure that the title
explains the main theme and content of the manuscript.
Abbreviations (except the standard or commonly interpreted ones such as HIV, AIDS,
DNA, RNA, CDC, FDA, ECG, and EEG) or acronyms should be avoided in the title,
as a reader not familiar with them may skip such an article and nonstandard
abbreviations may create problems in indexing the article. Also, too much of technical
jargon or chemical formulas in the title may confuse the readers and the article may be
skipped by them.
Numerical values of various parameters (stating study period or sample size) should
also be avoided in the titles (unless deemed extremely essential). It may be worthwhile
to take an opinion from an impartial colleague before finalizing the title. Thus, multiple
factors (which are, at times, a bit conflicting or contrasting) need to be considered while
formulating a title, and hence this should not be done in a hurry. Many journals ask the
authors to draft a “short title” or “running head” or “running title” for printing in the
header or footer of the printed paper. This is an abridged version of the main title of
up to 40–50 characters, may have standard abbreviations, and helps the reader to
navigate through the paper.
CHECKLIST FOR A GOOD TITLE
Below is a checklist/useful tips for drafting a good title for a research paper. Table
2 presents some of the titles used by the author of this article in his earlier research
papers, and the appropriateness of the titles has been commented upon. As an
individual exercise, the reader may try to improvise upon the titles (further) after reading
the corresponding abstract and full paper.
CHECKLIST/USEFUL TIPS FOR DRAFTING A GOOD TITLE FOR A
1. The title needs to be simple and direct
2. It should be interesting and informative
3. It should be specific, accurate, and functional (with essential scientific
“keywords” for indexing)
4. It should be concise, precise, and should include the main theme of the paper
5. It should not be misleading or misrepresentative
6. It should not be too long or too short (or cryptic)
7. It should avoid whimsical or amusing words
8. It should avoid nonstandard abbreviations and unnecessary acronyms (or
9. Title should be SPICED, that is, it should include Setting, Population,
Intervention, Condition, End-point, and Design
10. Place of the study and sample size should be mentioned only if it adds to the
scientific value of the title
11. Important terms/keywords should be placed in the beginning of the title
12. Descriptive titles are preferred to declarative or interrogative titles
13. Authors should adhere to the word count and other instructions as specified
by the target journal