Making your research paper discoverable: Title plays the winning trick

How to cite: M. Jagadesh Kumar, “Making Your Research Paper Discoverable: Title Plays the Winning Trick”,  IETE Technical Review, Vol.30 (5), pp.361-363, September-October 2013.

When you write a research paper, it is not just to tell about your exciting research results to the world but to describe how science works in all its glory. Research papers help us to publicize and champion a scientific argument.  The first scientific papers appeared in press sometime in 1665 in non-standardized form and style [1, 2]. This was later followed by the introduction of structured papers and peer review process [3].  Since then, a scientific paper in general contains (i) Title, (ii) Abstract (iii) Key words, (iv) Introduction, (v) Theory/Experimental Method (vi) Results and discussion, (vii) Conclusions and (viii) References.

 Which research paper to read?

Before we begin to work in a new research area, we would like to know about the past work done on the topic by other researchers. Since we cannot read all those papers that have been published, we need to narrow them down to a manageable number. During this process, the first contact a prospective reader will make with a scientific paper is the title. Title scanning is an everyday routine of any active scientist. We often flick through the titles to decide on the suitability and the importance of a paper to our research. In reality, it is the title of the paper which creates the first impression and  studies suggest that researchers often decide to read a paper solely based on the information in the title [4].

What is a title?

 The most important component of any textual document is its title. Semantically speaking, a title should be captivating, informative and should introduce the subject of the paper to the reader in a clear and concise manner. From a syntactic point of view, a title “is metadata with a structure that can be a word, phrase, expression, or sentence, that serves to indicate a paper or one of its parts and give its subject” [5]. Consequently, a good title should provide reasonable answers to the following two questions [6]:

  • Does the title of your manuscript, seen in isolation, give a full yet concise and specific indication of the work reported?  
  • Would someone interested in the exact topic of your paper, reading this title, be inclined to read the abstract?

How are Titles used in digital libraries?

In today’s digital world, it is the web information retrieval by the internet search engines which will decide the visibility of your paper [7]. They fail you if a good title is not chosen making your work obscure and unreachable to the intended audience. There are now several standard digital libraries such as

which can be used to search for scientific articles.  There are also web based bookmarking services such as

for storing, organizing and sharing research papers. For search engines in the above portals, the words in the title provide the clues for appropriate indexing in the bibliographic databases. This will help the users to retrieve scholarly data at a later time based on words or a combination of words stored in the index. The title of your paper will become an important element of the internet scientific repository and may be read by scores of users for years to come. Therefore, the choice of words in the title is vital to enhance the discoverability of your paper.

What are the common attributes of a title?

Titles are typically categorized into three groups – nominal titles, compound titles and full sentence titles. A vast majority of titles are “nominal titles” capturing the main theme of the paper e.g. Poly-silicon Spacer Gate Technique to Reduce Gate Charge of a Trench Power MOSFET [8]. Titles with a colon are called compound titles or hanging titles. For example, the title of this article (Making your research paper discoverable: Title plays the winning trick) is a compound title consisting of two phrases on either side of the colon.

Full sentence titles are not a common occurrence in engineering journals. They are, however, used in some disciplines such as biology e.g. Activation of Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor (AhR) by Tranilast, an Anti-allergy Drug, Promotes miR-302 Expression and Cell Reprogramming [9]. Full sentence titles tend to be longer and more assertive about the outcome of the study.

A title can contain commas, parenthesis and quotation marks but you should never use semicolons (;) and slashes (/). Commas are used in the middle of the title and quotation marks are used only for a part of the title, not the entire title. Evidence also suggests that the presence of colon in the title increases its discoverability [10] and the length of the title is positively correlated to the number of citations.

Use of the articles (a, an and the) in titles is very common. The number of words in a title may vary anywhere between 2 and 24 with the average number of words being approximately nine [11]. Question marks are generally not used in the titles of scientific articles e.g. How Metabolism Generates Signals during Innate Immunity and Inflammation [12].

General procedure for writing a title:

When we write a research paper, first we think about its outline, we then prepare a draft and revise it several times. For designing a good title, we need to do a similar exercise by first choosing a working title for the research paper and then refining it [13]. To choose a title, I usually summarize the main theme of my paper in a few sentences. I then choose the most important words of this summary and put them in a proper order. After several revisions, the title is ready. For example, for one of my recent papers, I have written the following:

  • My research work is on tunneling field effect transistors.
  • I have worked on an idea which makes it possible to realize these transistors without doing any impurity doping.
  • I have designed this transistor and investigated its electrical characteristics.

From the above summary, I have carefully chosen the words and placed them in a suitable order to form a sentence – The design and investigation of tunnel field effect transistors without impurity doping. After reviewing this working title several times, I was able to shorten it keeping the essence. The result was – Doping-less Tunneling Field Effect Transistor: Design and Investigation [14]. Peers in this area will immediately recognize all the words in the title and it conveys the essence of the work embodied in the research paper. Shorter titles are easy to read on mobile devices and can be transmitted on communication platforms such as Twitter. Short titles look good and take lesser time to read but do not try to make them too short.

Do you now see that a title is not just a summary of the paper? Preparing a title involves text compression by pruning removable words from the summary. Titles of multi-author research papers may come out to be better since each author will have a different level of appreciation of the contents of the paper leading to various formulations of the title. The best among the possibilities will get picked up.

Can we create a new acronym or a phrase in a title?

It is possible to use a new acronym or phrase only when the contents of your paper substantiate it. Some time ago, during the course of our research, we found that by creating a surface accumulation layer of electrons in the emitter of a bipolar transistor, the current gain of the transistor could be significantly increased. We tried to give a new phrase and acronym to this phenomenon but could not succeed. A chance discussion with a senior colleague about this led to a nice title – Surface Accumulation Layer Transistor (SALTran): A New Bipolar Transistor for Enhanced Current Gain and Reduced Hot-carrier Degradation [15]. Well, sometimes, discussing with your colleagues about your problem can lead to useful outcomes.

Are long titles bad?

You should not shy away from making the title longer, if necessary, since the words in a title are often used for indexing by the search engines. While short titles look good, it is not always possible and desirable to write a short title. For one of my papers, I chose the following title – Two-Dimensional Analytical Modeling of Fully Depleted Dual-Material Gate (DMG) SOI MOSFET and Evidence for Diminished Short-Channel Effects [16]. Looks longer but contains many important key words. In fact, a longer title may contain more key words improving its discoverability by the search engines. A recent study on choosing a title has concluded that “A longer, more comprehensive title is both more likely to contain any given search term and, therefore, be identified, and also if the title provides a clear description of the study or its findings, is also more likely to be identified as relevant on the initial search screening process” [17]. Acronyms, such as SOI and MOSFET in the above title, will be useful for indexing by the search engines. Acronyms, therefore, need not be completely eliminated from titles.

Conclusions:

Writing scientific titles is a challenging task and an art. However, there is no general agreement “on the standard and good title writing practice in different scientific disciplines and genres” [18]. During the short time the reader spends looking at your title, he would also decide on the relevance of your paper for his work. If the title does not convey this message quickly, the reader will move on and there is every chance that your work may be relegated to the obscurity [19].

Titles play a critical role in making or breaking the visibility of your paper. If you are a novice writer, next time when you sit down to write a title for your paper, I am sure you will be more mindful of the consequences of designing a bad title. Do you agree with me?

 References:

  1. R. A. Audisio, R. A. Stahel, M. S. Aapro, A. Costa, M. Pandey and N. Pavlidis, “Review Successful publishing: how to get your paper accepted”, Surg Oncol., Vol.18(4), pp.350-356, 2009.
  2. G. M. Liumbruno, C. Velati, P. Pasqualetti and M. Franchini, “How to write a scientific manuscript for publication”, Blood Transfusion, Vol.11(2), pp.217-226, 2013.
  3. A. J. Singer and J. E. Hollander, “How to write a manuscript”, J Emerg Med., Vol.36(1), pp.89-93, 2009.
  4. C. Bazerman, “Physicists reading physics: Scheme-laden purposes and purpose laden scheme”, Written Communication, Vol.2, pp.3-23, 1985.
  5. C. Lopeza, V. Princeb and M. Rocheb, “How can catchy titles be generated without loss of informativeness”, Expert System with Application, pp.1-18, 2013, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.eswa.2013.07.102.
  6. C. Mack, “How to write a good scientific paper: title, abstract, and keywords”, Journal of Micro/Nanolithography, MEMS, and MOEMS, Vol.11(2), pp.020101-1 –  020101-4, 2012.
  7. E.  Amolochitis, I. T.  Christou, Z. -H. Tan and R. Prasad, “A heuristic hierarchical scheme for academic search and retrieval”,  Information Processing and Management, Vol.49, pp.1326–1343, 2013.
  8. R. S. Saxena and M. J. Kumar, “Poly-silicon Spacer Gate Technique to Reduce Gate Charge of a Trench Power MOSFET,”  IEEE Trans. on Electron Devices, Vol.59, pp.738-744, 2012.
  9. W. Hu, J. Zhao and G. Pei, “Activation of Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor (AhR) by Tranilast, an Anti-allergy Drug, Promotes miR-302 Expression and Cell Reprogramming”, J. Biol. Chem., Vol.288, pp.22972-22984, 2013.
  10. M. E. Falagas, A. Zarkali, D. E. Karageorgopoulos, V. Bardakas V and M. N. Mavros, “The impact of article length on the number of future citations: a bibliometric analysis of general medicine journals”, PLoS One, Vol.8(2), p.e49476, 2013.
  11. L. Anthony, “Characteristic Features of Research Article Titles in Computer Science”, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, Vol. 44, pp.187-194, 2001.
  12. A. F.  McGettrick  and L.  A.  J.  O’Neill, “How Metabolism Generates Signals during Innate Immunity and Inflammation”, J. Biol. Chem. Vol.288, pp.22893-22898, 2013.
  13. Center for Research Writing Resources, “Writing an Effective Title-How to Write a Research Paper: An Editage Series”, Cactus communications Ltd., 2006.
  14. M. J. Kumar and S. Janardhanan, “Doping-less Tunnel Field Effect Transistor: Design and Investigation”,  IEEE Trans. on Electron Devices, Vol.60, pp.3285 – 3290, October 2013.
  15. M. J. Kumar and V. Parihar, “Surface Accumulation Layer Transistor (SALTran): A New Bipolar Transistor for Enhanced Current Gain and Reduced Hot-carrier Degradation,” IEEE Trans. on Device and Materials Reliability, Vol.4, pp. 509-519, 2004.
  16. M. J. Kumar and A. Chaudhry, “Two-Dimensional Analytical Modeling of Fully Depleted Dual-Material Gate (DMG) SOI MOSFET and Evidence for Diminished Short-Channel Effects”, IEEE Trans. on Electron Devices, Vol.51, pp.569-574, 2004.
  17. T. S. Jacques and N. J. Sebire, “The impact of article titles on citation hits: an analysis of general and specialist medical journals”, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Short Reports, Vol. 1(1), p.2, 2010.
  18. V. Soler, “Writing titles in science: An exploratory study”, English for Specific Purposes, Vol.26, pp.90–102, 2007.
  19. M. Haggan, “Research paper titles in literature, linguistics and science: dimensions of attraction”, Journal of Pragmatics, Vol.36, pp.293–317, 2004.
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13 Responses to Making your research paper discoverable: Title plays the winning trick

  1. K V Subba Rao says:

    This is a very useful article not merely for authors of scientific research papers but also of any other fields of pursuit. Well done!

  2. Amit says:

    Very useful article for me, being a researcher. After reading the article, I have a better idea of how to frame the title of my research paper. I am definitely going to apply it in my writing. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Sonu Kumar says:

    Really very informative about the choice of “title”.
    I have few questions:
    1. What cares should we take to write a good abstract?
    2. In many scientific papers, I have found that people just give “results and discussions” section and don’t include the “conclusions” section or vice versa. Is it justified ? Please shed some light on it.

  4. Brijesh says:

    its well written, very interesting and informative article . Next time, during writing a manuscript, i will consider all these points to make the title precise, informative and attractive. Please give your opinion on Abstract writing.
    Thanks !!

  5. Prashant Dubey says:

    Interesting. I never thought the same, but JSSC, does provide in its guidelines to put meaningfull titles and more quantitativeness than, qualitative titles. E.g ultra high frequency can be replaced by 5 GHz.

    • You are right. There do exist variations from journal to journal on the choice of words that can be used in the title. But a generic phrase such as “ultra high frequency” may be commonly used by the readers while searching for papers than use the word “5 GHz” as a search keyword.

      Some journals do not permit the use of acronyms at all. An example is Japanese Journal of Applied Physics. Even for a very commonly used acronym such as ‘CMOS”, one has to write ‘Complimentary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor” in the title.

      Therefore, one has to consider the journal’s guidelines also while finalizing the title of the research paper.

  6. Ravinder Kaur says:

    I hope our Communication Skills course takes all this into account. These are the kinds of useful inputs PG students (and all writers) require. Thanks for sharing.

    Prof. Ravinder Kaur,
    IIT Delhi

  7. Venkatesh says:

    Very informative. Frankly speaking, I did not realize about the importance of writing good titles until I read this article. Our professors need to sensitize us on academic softskills such as this. Thank you sir for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Pingback: Making Your Research Paper Discoverable | Networking for Graduate Students

  9. Pingback: Making your research paper discoverable: title plays the winning trick | Columbus State University Faculty Center

  10. Kien-Pong Yap says:

    thanks for your sharing. I found that the information is very useful and interesting. Good Job! Another point, I would suggest users to increase the search visibility by carefully selecting key words using the key word plus from Thomson Reuters. What our editors normally do is to review the titles of all references and highlight additional relevant but overlooked keywords that were not listed by the author or publisher. This keywords will be included in the journal for seaching. If you have included keywords that is identical to the one extracted by the editors, then your paper will have higher chances of being found by the readers.With KeyWords Plus, more papers that may not have appeared in your search due to changes in scientific keywords over time can be recovered. For example, a study on comparative genomics study of a bacteria. The keyword plus after searching include genome, secretion system, cell, strains, etc which can dramatically increase your visibility.

    Thanks,
    Kien-Pong Yap

  11. Clever Bikoko says:

    Informative, simple to follow and well written in simple and plain english

  12. Anurag says:

    Great inputs, I am sure lots of researchers world over will benefit from your hard work. I usually tend to focus on the Title at the very end of the paper writing process and try and incorporate my keywords in the title. I agree with most of your points here. Please keep up the great work!

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