Writing a research article title which is attractive to readers as well as optimal for search engines (e.g., Google) is a challenging task.

According to a survey, on average, scientific readers read 1142 titles, 204 abstracts, and 97 research articles each year. Notice the more than 5-times reduction in the number of abstracts as compared to the number of titles! The reduction reflects the intense scrutiny readers put on the titles to decide whether to read the articles or not. Article title also influences how efficiently search engines (e.g., Google) will recommend an article based on user search query.  

So, let’s dive into the crucial points for writing an effective title for your next research paper. 

Optimise title length

Though some journals may allow 30 words, title-length of 8-15 words is most common. It is not unusual as word-count of a good English sentence ranges from 11-25. Moreover, for a web page title, Search Engine Optimisation strategy (SEO) recommends a title of 60-65 characters, representing approximately 13 words (average word size is 4.7 characters). 

Include keywords in the title

While being concise, the title needs to be long enough to inform the target audience accurately about the contents of the article. Inclusion of keywords specific to the article topics and specific aspects of the topics serves the purpose. User routinely searches for articles using keywords in their fields and journals uses keywords to index articles. Therefore, including well-known keywords in the title will increase the probability of the title/article being found and accessed. 

For example, “Dynamic cell contacts between periportal mesenchyme and ductal epithelium act as a rheostat for liver cell proliferation” is better than a succinct alternative “Tuneable cell-to-cell contacts control liver regeneration” for following reason.

First title contains specific topics (cell contacts and liver cell proliferation) and specific aspects of the topics (periportal mesenchyme, ductal epithelium). The later title loses some keywords e.g., periportal mesenchyme or ductal epithelium and provides less information about the content. Therefore, some users who are searching with “ductal epithelium liver regeneration” may not find the article in their search. Note that search engines can semantically connect “liver regeneration” with “liver cell proliferation”.  

Include study-specific information in the title

Besides terms related to topics, a title may contain hints of methods, dataset, study design (e.g., Polymerase Chain Reaction Testing of Dogs for the H1N1 Virus vs. Animal testing for flu viruses, source: here). Though inclusion of results and conclusion are not recommended, implicit and qualitative inclusion of results in some cases might be better options. 

For example, the title “Dynamic cell contacts between periportal mesenchyme and ductal epithelium act as a rheostat for liver cell proliferation” is more descriptive and interesting than “Role of cell contacts between periportal mesenchyme and ductal epithelium in liver cell proliferation”. Words “dynamic” and “rheostat” in the first title qualitatively expresses results of the article, making it more interesting to the readers.

Make the title attractive

Without going overboard or raising confusion, the title needs to be attractive to the readers. It should not contain abbreviations/jargons. Titles generally don’t contain numerical values of parameters. Title needs to be sound safe to the readers (e.g., the title “Laser Treatment for Pediatric Melanoma” sound safer than “Treatment of Pediatric Melanoma Patients with Lasers”). More examples here

If the title claims too much and is confusing, it may attract criticism or readers may ignore it. For example, the title “Female hurricanes are deadlier than male hurricanes” sounds very attractive and interesting. However, the terms in the title are very confusing as there are no female or male hurricanes. In addition, the study investigates the effect of femineity or masculinity in hurricane names has on their perceived (but not the real risk) in the population. Indeed, this article drew a lot of criticism. 

Overall, the title of an article influences the first impression of your work by a reader, reviewer, or editor. So, give your best shot at it. For the best shot, additional resources (resource 123) and some funny scientific paper titles to cheer you up: 

  • Die hard: are cancer stem cells the Bruce Willises of tumor biology. 
  • Medical Marijuana: Can’t we all just get a bong? 
  • miR miR on the wall, who’s the most malignant medulloblastoma miR of them all? 
  • The effect of having Christmas dinner with in-laws on gut microbiota composition. 
  • Snakes on a spaceship – an overview of Python in Heliophysics. 
  • Pressures produced when penguins pooh – calculations on avian defaecation. 

Want to read more funny titles? More here