Writing a research paper (2) – choosing a good title

Today, I will continue my series of blog posts about how to write research papers.  I will discuss the importance of choosing a good title for research papers, some common errors, and give some tips.

select title of research paper

Why the title is important?

The title and abstract are some of the most important parts of a paper because this is what one will typically first look at when searching for papers.  A good title will make it easy to find the paper, and increases its visibility. What is a good title? I will discuss this in details in this post. But generally speaking, it should describe the content of the paper well and make it easy for the target audience to find the paper.  Moreover, a good title should not be misleading or contain errors, as it may give a bad impression to potential readers.

Some common errors

Let’s first discuss some common errors in titles of research papers:

  • A title containing English errors. I often see titles containing English errors. This is a very serious problem because not only it gives a bad impression to potential readers but also it gives a bad impression when applying for jobs, as the title will appear in the CVs of authors, and cannot be changed after it is published.  Thus, ensuring that there is no English errors is crucial.  An example is the title of a paper  in the GESTS International Transactions on Computer Science and Engineering  journal: “Association rules mining: A recent overview“.   Here “rules” should be written as “rule”.
  • A title that is too short or too broad. A title should give a good overview of the content of a paper. For example, a title such as “Methods to analyze data” would be too broad, as it does not tell what kind of methods is used or what kind of data is analyzed. A better title could be “Clustering algorithms to analyze e-learning data”. This is already much better.
  • A title that is too long. A common mistake for young researchers is to write titles that are very long to try to make the title very specific.  Just like titles that are too broad, a title that is too specific is bad. A good rule of thumb is to try to write titles containing no more than 10 words. An example of title that is too long  is:  “Management and analytic of biomedical big data with cloud-based in-memory database and dynamic querying: a hands-on experience with real-world data” published in the proceedings of the KDD 2014 confeence. This title contains about 24 words and in my opinion contains a lot of unnecessary information. For example, “a hands-on experience with real-world data” could be removed to make the title shorter. I would rewrite the title as:  “Biomedical data analytics with distributed in-memory databases”. This is only 7 words instead of 24 and it keeps the main information.
  • A title that contains unnecessary information. A good title should not contain unnecessary information. An example is the word “new” in this title “New algorithms for parking demand management and a city-scale deployment.” from a KDD 2014 paper. The word “new” should be removed since the algorithms are always new in a research paper. Another example is this title “Applying data mining techniques to address critical process optimization needs in advanced manufacturing.” from KDD 2014. In that title, the words “applying”, “needs” and “advanced” are unnecessary. The title could be rewritten as : “Data mining techniques for critical process optimization in manufacturing”.

A few more tips

Here are a few additional tips about writing a title:

  • As shown in the above example, a title can often be made shorter. Thus, after writing a title, one should spend some time to think  about how to make it shorter.
  • A good idea is to write several potential titles and then choose the best one.  One may also ask a colleague to help select the best title.
  • When choosing the title, one should think about the target audience of the paper. In particular, one should think about which keywords may be used to search for the paper, to ensure that other researchers will find it. Sometimes a paper may have more than one target audience. Thus, one may have to take a decision.
  • Avoid using abbreviations in titles as the reader may not be familiar with them. If the abbreviations are well-known such as H2O, it is no problem. But if the abbreviations are not well-known for the target audience, it will reduce the visibility of the paper.
  • A title does not need to be a complete sentence. A good title is short and descriptive.
  • A good way to learn how to write titles is to look at the titles of other papers in the same field.

Conclusion

I hope that you have enjoyed this blog post.  If you have other suggestions or questions, please share them in the comment section below. If there is interest, I will continue writing more blog posts on paper writing in the future.

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Philippe Fournier-Viger is a professor of Computer Science and also the founder of the open-source data mining software SPMF, offering more than 145 data mining algorithms.

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