Choosing good titles in academic writing

The title of your paper is the first thing your readers notice, and their first judgments are shaped by your title. Therefore, you have to think thoroughly, as it has the power to create a good first impression. There are three essential rules you have to follow when choosing a good title.

What is a subtitle?

Before explaining how to choose a good title, you must know that a good title can be split into two parts: the main title (main heading) and a subtitle, which are separated by a colon.

A good title demands to be informative and compelling, and subtitles can easily help you achieve these. Just combine your compelling, catchy hook with an informative main title.

Here is an example:
You can also reverse the two parts according to what you would like to emphasize more:

Three main components

Writing an informative title

Your title, above everything else, should help the reader predict the content of your paper. The accuracy of the title in presenting the topic and the scope of your study is particularly essential.

Here is an example of an informative title:

Writing a compelling title

Your title has a role in attracting people into reading the rest of your essay or research paper. You must acknowledge your potential readers’ taste and choose a compelling title to attract and lure them.

A title’s edginess plays a vital role in attracting attention. According to your field of study, find out how edgy you can be, and determine the tone of your title accordingly. Here is an example of a compelling title:

In some fields of studies, a compelling title might mean an insightful title that reveals the findings of the study:

Although a good title is usually 10 to 15 words, long titles (like the one above) are acceptable in sciences.

Writing a proper title

A proper title reflects your tone and shows you know your audience. Consider these three suggestions for an appropriate title.

Of course, you can have a working title during your process but decide on the final title after re-reading your paper from introduction to conclusion, and understanding the tone you have written.

The familiarity of your topic to the audience should determine your final title. In the end, your title should be understood clearly to attract the reader. So, although it is acceptable, avoid using overly technical terms that might not be understood by an average reader from your field of study. Make sure you use the right taboo words and phrases.

For example, the catchy hook “fear not” in the example of “Fear Not: A Critical Perspective on the Terrorist Threat in Europe” (Egmont Institute) is a substance that contributes to the paper’s thesis statement to not be afraid of terrorist threats in Europe.

Keywords in titles

Keywords are crucial for your readers to find the answers to the “what/where/when” of your paper. There are two kinds of keywords. While topic keywords give away the “what” of your topic, focus keywords help determine the location of place and time.

Topic keywords

Topic keywords in your title help to define your content. They answer “what” your content is about. It is important to add topic keywords so that your reader can identify the critical paragraphs and transitions in your paper easily.

Focus Keywords

These keywords help determine the location of your paper and answer “when/where” questions. Focus keywords change from discipline to discipline.

For example, for a literary student, while the location might mean a specific book or author, for a history student, it might mean a certain era or a place. Focus keywords help your paper become professional by offering more information regarding the topic.

The title below shows a catchy phrase, topic keywords, and a focus keyword:

“The Dark Side of Transition: Violence Against Muslims in Myanmar (International Crisis Group)

Title templates

There are various title formats that you might have to choose from, when finding a title to your paper. Although there might be more examples and the format types are not limited, here is a list of title formats for you to explore.

Gender in Problem-Solving Workshops: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing? (Swisspeace)

Rebels without a Cause: Russia’s Proxies in Eastern Ukraine (International Crisis Group)

Redefining the U.S.-Turkey Relationship (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

Taobao Villages: Rural E-Commerce and Low-End Manufacturing in China (East-West Center)

“I Have a Dream for Pakistan”: A Critique of Zardari’s Plan (Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies)

Mode of Delivery of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Insomnia: A randomized Controlled Non-Inferiority Trial of Digital and Face-to-Face Therapy (Sleep)

Stress and Sleep Across the Onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Impact of Distance Learning on U.S. College Students’ Health Trajectories (Sleep)

High-Fidelity Quantum Memory Using Nitrogen-Vacancy Center Ensemble for Hybrid Quantum Computation (Physical Review)

Things to avoid

Feel free to check Dos and Don’ts of Academic Writing before you begin.

Ibrahim Akturk
Ibrahim Akturk
Content editor at Tamara Research. Translation major, huge coffee and baking nerd. Addicted to good music and great articles.