Pin Me

How to Choose a Title for a PhD Research Paper

written by: John Garger•edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch•updated: 7/31/2010

Seemingly simple, choosing the right title for a research paper can be difficult. Learn about three criteria for selecting a good title for a journal article, conference paper, or PhD dissertation.

  • slide 1 of 2

    The title of your PhD journal article, conference paper, or dissertation is important for several reasons. First, it is the first part of your paper that people, including a dissertation committee member, reads. Second, the title can frame the rest of a paper's content in either a positive or a negative way. Finally, the title is an expression of how you see the important parts of your own paper.

    The criteria for selecting a good title for your PhD paper are threefold. First, you must consider its content, what the title actually says. Second, the length of the title has several important ramifications in the academic world. Third, your title must accurately portray what your paper is about.

  • slide 2 of 2

    Criteria for a Good PhD Paper Title

    In essence, the title of any research paper, book, or dissertation is a mini-summary of the content of your research. Consequently, the content of your title must match the content of your paper. This may seem like an obvious criterion for choosing a title but you'd be surprised how often the title doesn't match the content of a paper.

    Much like SEO on the web, your title must contain certain keywords that appear in your paper. If your paper is about parataxic distortion, those words and, more specifically, that phrase, should appear in your title. Most journals and dissertations indices allow searches for such keywords. If you want your paper to be found by other researchers, make sure the content of your title matches what's in your paper.

    Another criterion for a good PhD paper title has to do with length. Many journals limit the number of words or characters that can be used in the title. Restrictions on dissertation titles are far fewer. Still, too long a title and you risk summarizing your paper's content too much; too short a title and readers will only get a general sense of what you paper is about.

    There is no hard and fast criterion for how long or short a paper title should be. Sans any guidelines from a journal style sheet or a graduate school's requirements, you should shoot for a title of between 8 and 16 words.

    The last criterion for a good title has to do with accuracy. Whereas the content of the title guides the keywords, the accuracy of the title ensures that readers know exactly what you paper is about beyond perceiving the content of your paper from the keywords.

    If your paper is an experimental study, you show accurately reflect that fact in your title. If your paper is a case study, again, make that clear in the title. The reader should also not have to guess whether your paper is empirical or theoretical. In fact, the reader should not even have to go so far as the abstract to learn the purpose, content, and basic focus of the paper.

    Choosing a title for a PhD research paper can be difficult if you don't consider the following three criteria. First, the title of your research article, conference paper, or dissertation should contain the keywords explored in your work. Second, the length of the title should be long enough to be almost a summary of the work. Third, the title should accurately portray what the paper is about; don't be afraid to mention the methods you used in the paper.