Titles Of Research Papers

One of the things you learn as a Ph.D. student is how to do research. Though I’m still far from mastering that particular lesson, there’s something I’ve discovered along the way: Academic researchers love coming up with long titles for their papers. In fact, a colleague’s recent 27-word Ph.D. thesis had me wondering, “Just how long do these titles get?” I decided to find out. I wrote a little script that scans the DBLP database and spits out the longest titles it finds (based on number of characters, not words). Excluding non-English titles, here’s the top-ten list:

  1. In silico exploration of the fructose-6-phosphate phosphorylation step in glycolysis: genomic evidence of the coexistence of an atypical ATP-dependent along with a PPi-dependent phosphofructokinase in Propionibacterium freudenreichii subsp. shermanii
  2. A Comparative Study of Artificial Neural Networks Using Reinforcement Learning and Multidimensional Bayesian Classification Using Parzen Density Estimation for Identification of GC-EIMS Spectra of Partially Methylated Alditol Acetates on the World Wide Web
  3. Performance of empirical potentials (AMBER, CFF95, CVFF, CHARMM, OPLS, POLTEV), semiempirical quantum chemical methods (AM1, MNDO/M, PM3), and ab initio Hartree-Fock method for interaction of DNA bases: Comparison with nonempirical beyond Hartree-Fock results
  4. Joint quantum chemical and polarizable molecular mechanics investigation of formate complexes with penta- and hexahydrated Zn2+: Comparison between energetics of model bidentate, monodentate, and through-water Zn2+ binding modes and evaluation of nonadditivity effects
  5. A Simple Flexible Program for the Computational Analysis of Amyl Acyl Residue Distribution in Proteins: Application to the Distribution of Aromatic versus Aliphatic Hydrophobic Amino Acids in Transmembrane alpha-Helical Spanners of Integral Membrane Transport Proteins
  6. Three-Dimensional Quantitative Structure-Property Relationship (3D-QSPR) Models for Prediction of Thermodynamic Properties of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs): Enthalpies of Fusion and Their Application to Estimates of Enthalpies of Sublimation and Aqueous Solubilities
  7. WEB OBJECTS TIME: When Microsoft Started Speaking Like a Good Open-Standards Citizen, The Netscape Extensions Tail Tried to Wag The Dog and Object-Oriented Software Turned Static Web Pages Into Dynamically-Linked Access Boulevards to Significant Online Collection Databases
  8. Hydrogen bonding in diols and binary diol-water systems investigated using DFT methods. II. Calculated infrared OH-stretch frequencies, force constants, and NMR chemical shifts correlate with hydrogen bond geometry and electron density topology. A reevaluation of geometrical criteria for hydrogen bonding
  9. Molecular mechanical models for organic and biological systems going beyond the atom centered two body additive approximation: aqueous solution free energies of methanol and N-methyl acetamide, nucleic acid base, and amide hydrogen bonding and chloroform/water partition coefficients of the nucleic acid bases
  10. The nucleotide sequence of a 3.2 kb segment of mitochondrial maxicircle DNA from Crithidia fasciculata containing the gene for cytochrome oxidase subunit III, the N-terminal part of the apocytochrome b gene and a possible frameshift gene; further evidence for the use of unusual initiator triplets in trypanosome mitochondria

Of course, a trivia researcher’s work is never done. For future analysis, I’ll focus on papers with the highest number of authors. (I’ve already discovered a potential candidate.)

The following parameters can be used to help you formulate a suitable research paper title:

  1. The purpose of the research
  2. The narrative tone of the paper [typically defined by the type of the research]
  3. The methods used

The initial aim of a title is to capture the reader’s attention and to draw his or her attention to the research problem being investigated.

Create a Working Title

Typically, the final title you submit to your professor is created after the research is complete so that the title accurately captures what was done. The working title should be developed early in the research process because it can help anchor the focus of the study in much the same way the research problem does. Referring back to the working title can help you reorient yourself back to the main purpose of the study if you feel yourself drifting off on a tangent while writing.

The Final Title

Effective titles in academic research papers have several characteristics.

  • Indicate accurately the subject and scope of the study.
  • Avoid using abbreviations.
  • Use words that create a positive impression and stimulate reader interest.
  • Use current nomenclature from the field of study.
  • Identify key variables, both dependent and independent.
  • May reveal how the paper will be organized.
  • Suggest a relationship between variables which supports the major hypothesis.
  • Is limited to 10 to 15 substantive words.
  • Do not include "study of," "analysis of" or similar constructions.
  • Titles are usually in the form of a phrase, but can also be in the form of a question.
  • Use correct grammar and capitalization with all first words and last words capitalized, including the first word of a subtitle. All nouns,  pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that appear between the first and last words of the title are also capitalized.
  • In academic papers, rarely is a title followed by an exclamation mark. However, a title or subtitle can be in the form of a question.

The Subtitle

Subtitles are quite common in social science research papers. Examples of why you may include a subtitle:

  1. Explains or provides additional context, e.g., "Linguistic Ethnography and the Study of Welfare Institutions as a Flow of Social Practices: The Case of Residential Child Care Institutions as Paradoxical Institutions."
  2. Adds substance to a literary, provocative, or imaginative title, e.g., "Listen to What I Say, Not How I Vote: Congressional Support for the President in Washington and at Home."
  3. Qualifies the geographic scope of the research, e.g., "The Geopolitics of the Eastern Border of the European Union: The Case of Romania-Moldova-Ukraine."
  4. Qualifies the temporal scope of the research, e.g., "A Comparison of the Progressive Era and the Depression Years: Societal Influences on Predictions of the Future of the Library, 1895-1940."
  5. Focuses on investigating the ideas, theories, or work of a particular individual, e.g., "A Deliberative Conception of Politics: How Francesco Saverio Merlino Related Anarchy and Democracy."

Balch, Tucker. How to Compose a Title for Your Research Paper. Augmented Trader blog. School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Tech University;  Choosing the Proper Research Paper Titles. AplusReports.com, 2007-2012; General Format. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University.

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