The title is the first part of a work that a reader sees. It describes what the research is about but ideally does more than that. It must be correct and not misleading, but since it may be seen among other titles in a Google list, it should also stand out as interesting to attract more readers. Finally it must be meaningful to actually convey what the paper is about. Using scientific terms only known to experts will limit your audience to those experts. The title should correctly describe the research in a meaningful and interesting way that invites the reader to read on. The requirements are:

  • Correct. Correctly tells the reader about the research.
  • Interesting. Focuses on what is interesting to others.
  • Meaningful. As easy to read as possible, with minimum jargon.

Don’t be misled into a catchy title that is interesting but not meaningful, e.g. “When healthcare goes bad” is catchy but doesn’t tell what the paper is about. Equally “An investigation of medical misadventures that increase the level of claims making and reduce social and clinical selectivity based on patient self-reporting in suburban clinicsgives too many boring details. A title that uses jargon like “Variability-Aware Parsing in the Presence of Lexical Macros and Conditional Compilation” is technically correct but limits readers to other experts in the field. Don’t raise expectations the paper doesn’t satisfy, e.g. a paper on “The New Revolution in Higher Education” needs to make the case that there really is a “revolution”. Don’t take the easy path of a deliberately vague title that says little, e.g. Power in the modern milieu” says nothing about what was found and no-one knows what a milieu is. It is like an empty name badge that says “Hello, my name is …” but gives no name. Such “empty label” titles are surprisingly common unfortunately. A good research title is typically around 10 to 15 words long.

The top 20 most popular academic papers of 2016 were:

  1. United States health care reform: progress to date and next steps 
  2. Medical error – the third leading cause of death in the US
  3. Observation of gravitational waves from a binary black hole merger
  4. Evidence for a distant giant planet in the solar system
  5. Sugar industry and coronary heart disease research: a historical analysis of internal industry documents
  6. Zika virus and birth defects – reviewing the evidence for causality
  7. The association between income and life expectancy in the United States, 2001-2014
  8. Effect of wearable technology combined with a lifestyle intervention on long-term weight loss  
  9. Mastering the game of Go with deep neural networks and tree search
  10. The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness
  11. Evidence for a limit to human lifespan
  12. The terrorist inside my husband’s brain
  13. The antibody aducanumab reduces Aβ plaques in Alzheimer’s disease
  14. Trends in adult body-mass index in 200 countries from 1975 to 2014
  15. Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise
  16. Does physical activity attenuate, or even eliminate, the detrimental association of sitting time with mortality?
  17. Human commensals producing a novel antibiotic impair pathogen colonization
  18. The brain adapts to dishonesty
  19. The third international consensus definitions for sepsis and septic shock (sepsis-3)
  20. Zika virus associated with microcephaly

All these papers correctly describe what the paper is about in an interesting and meaningful way. Some give a brief title and then add a sub-title after a colon or hyphen. All cases give the research topic, such as health care, medical error or gravitational waves, and most mention causes that might affect it, e.g. if I am interested in weight loss, I might read #8 to find out how wearable technology affects it. An interesting exercise is to identify the cause and effect in each title, e.g. the subject of #18 is dishonesty and the cause investigated is brain adaptation. Now look at your own research and brainstorm your own title.