Definition Of Title In Research Paper

When you are searching for a research study on a particular topic, you probably notice that articles with interesting, descriptive research titles draw you in. By contrast, research paper titles that are not descriptive are usually passed over, even though they may be good research papers with interesting contents. This shows the importance of coming up with a good research paper title when you are drafting your own manuscript.

Why do Research Titles Matter?

Before we look at the characteristics of a good research title, let’s look at an example that illustrates why a good research paper should have a strong title.

Imagine that you are researching meditation and nursing, and you want to find out if any studies have shown that meditation makes nurses better communicators.  You conduct a keyword search using the keywords “nursing”, “communication”, and “meditation.” You come up with results that have the following titles:

  1. Benefits of Meditation for the Nursing Profession: A Quantitative Investigation
  2. Why Mindful Nurses Make the Best Communicators
  3. Meditation Gurus
  4. Nurses on the Move: A Quantitative Report on How Meditation Can Improve Nurse Performance

Related: Ready with your title and looking forward to manuscript submission? Check these journal selection guidelines now! (Infographic)

All four of these titles may describe very similar studies—they could even be titles for the same study! As you can see, they give very different impressions.

  • Title 1 describes the topic and the method of the study but is not particularly catchy.
  • Title 2 partly describes the topic, but does not give any information about the method of the study—it could simply be a theoretical or opinion piece.
  • Title 3 is somewhat catchier but gives almost no information at all about the article.
  • Title 4 begins with a catchy main title and is followed by a subtitle that gives information about the content and method of the study.


As we will see, Title 4 has all the characteristics of a good research title.

Characteristics of a Good Research Title

According to rhetoric scholars Hairston and Keene, making a good title involves ensuring that the research title accomplishes four goals. First, a good title predicts the content of the research paper. Second, a good title should be interesting to the reader. Third, it should reflect the tone of the writing. Fourth and finally, it should contain important keywords that will make it easier to be located during a keyword search.

Let’s return to the examples in the previous section to see if they meet these four criteria.


TitlePredicts content?Interesting?Reflects tone?Important keywords?
Benefits of Meditation for the Nursing Profession: A Quantitative InvestigationYesNoNoYes
Why Mindful Nurses Make the Best CommunicatorsNoYesYesNo
Meditation GurusNoYesNoNo
Nurses on the Move: A Quantitative Report on How Meditation Can Improve Nurse PerformanceYesYesYesYes


As you can see in the table above, only one of the four example titles fulfills all of the criteria of a suitable research paper title.

Tips for Writing an Effective Research Paper Title

When writing a title in research, you can use the four criteria listed above as a guide. Here are a few other tips you can use to make sure your title will be part of the recipe for an effective research paper:

  1. Make sure your research title describes (a) the topic, (b) the method, (c) the sample, and (d) the results of your study. You can use the following formula:

[Result]: A [method] study of [topic] among [sample]

Example: Meditation makes nurses perform better: a qualitative study of mindfulness meditation among German nursing students

  1. Avoid unnecessary words and jargons. You want a title that will be comprehensible even to people who are not experts in your field. For a detailed list of things to avoid when writing an effective research title, check the article here.
  2. Make sure your title is between 5 and 15 words in length.
  3. If you are writing a title for a university assignment or for a particular academic journal, verify that your title conforms to the standards and requirements for that outlet. For example, many journals require that titles fall under a character limit, including spaces. Many universities require that titles take a very specific form, limiting your creativity.

Resources for Further Reading

In addition to the tips above, there are many resources online that you can use to help write your research title. Here is a list of links that you may find useful as you work on creating an excellent research title:

  1. The University of Southern California has a guide specific to social science research papers:
  2. The Journal of European Psychology Students has a blog article focusing on APA-compliant research paper titles:
  3. This article by Kristen Hamlin contains a step-by-step approach to writing titles:

Are there any tips or tricks you find useful in crafting research titles? Which tip did you find most useful in this article? Leave a comment to let us know!



  1. Hairston, M., & Keene, M. 2003. Successfulwriting. 5th ed. New York: Norton.
  2. University of Southern California. 2017. Organizing your social sciences research paper: choosing a title. [Online] Available at:

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If you notice, these are basically the same as the research paper.  However, you don't have findings or discussion yet because you haven't done the research!  You can, however, indicate what you expect to find.  Not all of the above parts have their own heading (Ex: rationale).  See your APA Manual on p. 62 for heading styles required.  You cannot just choose whether a heading is bold, italics, centered, etc.  Those choices are prescribed by the format.

1.  Title page

Your title must give a concise indication of the nature, particularity, and scope of your research.  It has to be informative and comprehensive and must honestly represent the research.  Become familiar with the content and structure of good research titles by reading many of them!  Go back to those databases accessed through the Tarleton library.  See your APA manual for the correct form for the title page.

2.  Abstract

An abstract is NOT an introduction to your paper.  In 200-250 words, it is simply a brief description of your entire project, including the purpose, method of research, and what conclusions you expect.

3.  Introduction

The introduction should include a statement of the research problem. This section expands on the research question you hope to answer in your study. It should also present a tentative answer to that question—what you hope or expect to find.  It should also include your rationale.  The rationale deals with how you have arrived at the conclusion that this research should be undertaken.  What was your line of reasoning?  Why is it important to do this research, as a statement of logic rather than a statement of belief?  This section points out the practical relevance of the problem, states what the given state of affairs is currently and what is unsatisfactory about it.

4. Definition of terms

This section defines terms and concepts which are significant to your topic. It provides readers with a reference for terms that may be technical or subject to multiple meanings, thus avoiding possible misinterpretation. It defines the terms in the context where they will be used and is organized like a dictionary. If there are citations from literature for certain definitions, they should be presented in the appropriate format.

5. Literature review

This section provides a comprehensive and thorough background for the problem you are researching and puts the problem into a broader historical perspective.  In the continuous narrative of the literature review, you discuss the body of research already done and currently underway, evaluating and assessing the value of the various theories, arguments, projects, and authors to your project. Leave out personal commentary, but describe studies relevant to your topic.  Don't just state an opinion and cite a study that agrees with you.  As a matter of fact, leave out all personal references and opinions.  Use this section to objectively state and evaluate the research that has already been done on your topic.

6. Delimitations

This section not only addresses how and why your study will be narrowed in scope but also explains what you are not investigating and why you cannot or have chosen not to do so.  This is the area that narrows your topic to time, place, and content.  For example, your topic will not include data from all of history in all places and from all people, but perhaps 7th graders in one school district during one academic year.  You may also be excluding those 7th graders who move into the school district mid year.  Those details matter.

7. Methodology

This section describes how information will be obtained and tested. 

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