Writing your Research: PhD Title Criteria

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Writing your Research: PhD Title Criteria

If you’re reading articles on how to structure the title of your dissertation, I hope you’re at the stage where you have written an outline and mapped the course your research will take.

I also hope you’re going to write the title of your dissertation before actually going ahead and writing the bulk of your thesis and research. You may tweak the title or even change it entirely once you’re finally done, but it is important that you think about it now and get a working title at some point before you write your first full-length chapter.

Why do I say this? Your title will summarize–in a few words–what you’re setting out to do. It will be a good way to set the perimeter within which your research will be limited. It will also act as a constant reminder to you about the premise and content of your thesis and thus make the writing of it easier and more structured.

And now for some practical tips on how to write the right dissertation title:

No Mystery, Please

Look, this is your dissertation, not a bestselling psychological thriller. It’s going to be read by experts, graduate students and other people who are interested in your area of research. This is not the place to show off your poetic abilities or your fondness for mystery.

Your title should be clear and should, as shortly as you can, describe what you’ve set out to do. I always tell my students to be as concise as possible while also attempting to be as complete as possible. Say exactly what you want to say in the most direct way possible.

Be Specific, Not Vague

Don’t be too general when you give your dissertation a title. In fact, make sure that you highlight the most important aspects of your research in the title itself.

Think of your title as a precis of your abstract–the summary of a summary. It marks the range and extent of your research and tells your reader what to expect. The more precise you are, the easier it will be for your reader to identify whether or not they want to delve into your work.

Hook, Then Explain

Singing in the Seams: An Analysis of Bharati Mukherjee’s Immigrants. Compare this title with From Baroque to Rock and you’ll see what I mean.

I know I said your title should be clear and straightforward but I didn’t say it had to be boring! If you want people to read your work, you should first be able to arouse their interest. A great title is one that will attract but will, at the same time, inform the reader and invite him to join you as you lay out your thought process to him in more detail within the text of your dissertation.


Optimize the amount of information you give out in your title; optimize the length of your title; but most of all, make it easier for your readers to find you by optimizing your title so that it contains keywords that can bring it to the top of searches on the internet.

It is a fact that the world wide web has made research a lot easier, and also that research conducted over the internet is gaining more currency. However, there is a lot of information out there and only so much can be made available on the first page of engine driven searches. If your title is optimized, it will be more accessible to your readers and will therefore get more hits.


In the final analysis, though, it is your dissertation and the title should reflect the personality of your research. So as you sit down to write it, remember that no one knows your work, your area and your interests more than you do. Also remember that the title is not written in stone just yet. You will be able to change it; add and subtract elements to and from it as your dissertation grows and you grow with it.

This post is part of the series: PhD Advice

Advice and tips for PhD students

  1. How Much Does a PhD Cost?
  2. Benefits and Disadvantages of an Older PhD Student
  3. PhD Without a Master’s
  4. Criteria for a PHD Title