Choosing an Effective Title

Nov 25 22:00 2002 Tim North Print This Article

"Titles distinguish the mediocre, embarrass the superior and are disgraced by the inferior."

George Bernard Shaw

It may seem trivial to tell you to choose a good title for yournext written work,Guest Posting but the importance of this task should not beunderestimated. A good title may be the difference between areader choosing to look at your work or passing over it.

Many readers will learn of your work while surrounded by otherdocuments that are competing for their attention. For example,they may see it while:

  • scanning the printed documents on a bookshelf;
  • looking through the titles in a printed index;
  • looking at a bound collection of documents; or
  • searching the Internet.

A good title can help your work to stand out from the crowd.Here then are some guidelines for choosing a good title.

TITLE GUIDELINE ONE

USE THE FEWEST NUMBER OF WORDS THAT EXPRESS WHAT YOU WISH TO SAY

When choosing a title, avoid generic phrases like 'Aninvestigation of...', 'A study into...' and 'Observations on...'.These are implied anyway and add little value.

Compare these two titles:

A study of the effects of chaos as a source of complexity and diversity in evolutionary processes

Chaos as a source of complexity and diversity in evolution

The first title takes seventeen words, the second one ten. Thefirst one contains extra words that convey slightly moreinformation (study, effects and processes) but at the cost ofmaking the title notably longer and less memorable.

Here is another example:

A description of a variety of different tools for creating an interactive virtual-cinema environment

Tools for interactive virtual cinema

The first title clearly employs more words than are needed(fourteen versus five). It does contain more information, but atthe cost of being wordier, harder to remember and burying the keywords at the end of the sentence.

Indeed, in the first title, the key word virtual-cinema is thethirteenth word in the sentence, You have to read almost theentire title before finding out what the paper is about. Thisleads us to our next guideline ...

TITLE GUIDELINE TWO

PUT YOUR TOPIC WORDS NEAR THE START OF THE TITLE

Titles may contain several key words or key phrases (seeguideline three), but one of these words or phrases will usuallybe more significant than the others. Let's call these the topicwords.

Putting the topic words near the start of the title makes iteasier for the reader to decide what your document is about andif it should be read.

Consider the following titles in which the topic words are shownin capitals. In all cases the topic words comes near the start ofthe title.

CHAOS as a Source Of Complexity and Diversity in Evolution

The USC BRAIN PROJECT: Confronting Models With Data

VLSI NEURAL NETWORKS: Design Challenges and Opportunities

Low-level VISION IN INSECTS and Applications to Robot Navigation

TITLE GUIDELINE THREE

INCLUDE SEARCHABLE KEY WORDS IN YOUR TITLE

Articles are usually indexed by key words. Frequently,particularly with web-based search engines, these key words aretaken from the document's title. It follows that people will bemore likely to find your work if its title contains thesignificant key words.

Compare these two titles:

An Interim Report from the Myers Project

The Myers Project Interim Report into the Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Memory Retention

Not only does the second title bring the topic phrase ('the MyersProject') to the start of the title, but it also includesadditional key words: sleep deprivation and memory retention.Readers searching using these terms will have an increased chanceof finding the document.

Note that this guideline is somewhat at odds with guideline one:use the fewest number of words. Clearly a balance needs to befound between titles that are brief and titles that contain asuitable number of key words.

With these guidelines in mind, you should have no troublechoosing an effective title for your next publication.

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Tim North
Tim North

Adapted from WRITING SCIENTIFIC PAPERS by Tim North. This
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