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RCE 620: Theories and Techniques of Counseling: Coming Up With a Title

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Coming Up With a Title

Grabbing Your Readers' Attention

The title of your paper will be the first thing that your readers see, but will it attract or deter them? Will it grab their attention or make them turn away, uninterested? Does it clearly identify the main topic addressed in your paper?

Neutral Descriptions

The traditional title approach, the neutral description contains mostly nouns and prepositions. Avoid wordiness by putting the most important words at the beginning of the title, and make sure that it conveys the appropriate information.

Bat genome analysis for DNA damage check-point incidence
Mechanism of DNA translocation in a replicative hexameric helicase
Pollen morphology of German and Austrian Saxifraga species
Amino acid activation of ion channels in chipmunk muscle tissue

Declarative Statements

A declarative statement contains both a subject and verb and might be either a sentence fragment or a full sentence. These types of titles include what the paper says and not just what it covers, letting your readers know what you found (especially in a research study). These titles are best used when the paper addresses a specific question that can be answered without too much complexity--just don't end your title with an actual question mark!

Selective elimination of messenger RNA prevents an incidence of untimely meiosis

Two-Part Titles

Separated by a colon or dash, the first half of the two-part title contains "grand, attention-getting phrases, word play, or even puns" (Matthews & Matthews, 2014, p. 73). The actual explanation of what the paper covers comes after the colon or dash. These types of titles tend to be more informal and might not be suitable for publishing in an academic journal.

The Three C's: Concise, Clear, Complete

In order to keep your title concise, clear, and complete, remember that it shouldn't be any longer than 12 words (or approximately 100 characters, including spaces). This means that every single word must count. Trivial phrases such as "Notes on" or "A study of," in addition to initial articles (i.e., The, A, An), serve no purpose. You should instead focus on identifying keywords that your readers might use to find your paper in a database.

In other words, what key terms were YOU searching for when conducting research for your paper?

It might be tempting to eliminate prepositions in your title, but a long string of nouns and adjectives could lead to a strange and/or ambiguous meaning. Also avoid using uncommon abbreviations, especially if they might mean different things to different people in different fields.

Questions to Consider

  • Is it interesting, concise, and informative?
  • Is it descriptive, unambiguous, and accurate?
  • Is it accurate enough for use in indexing systems and bibliographic databases?
    • [You should always write as though your paper might get published!]
  • Will potential readers be able to judge your paper's relevance to their own interest on the basis of the title alone?
  • Does it include the main key phrase for your topic? (Matthews & Matthews, 2014, p. 71-72)


Matthews, J. R., & Matthews, R. W. (2014). Successful scientific writing: A step-by-step guide for the biological and medical sciences (4th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.