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Writing your paper: the title

Posted 8/7/2023

Traditionally, titles were used to catch the attention of someone skimming a journal table of contents. More importantly these days, the title helps researchers find your work in the online searches . Titles should thus be descriptive, precise, and designed to show up in relevant web searches.

Aim for a title of 10-15 words, though this isn’t a hard rule. Extremely short titles usually don’t help, even if they are witty, because it’s hard to make them descriptive. Avoid acronyms, unless your paper introduces a procedure with an acronym name that you define in the title. Minimize non-informative words such as effective, novel, improved, evaluation, assessing, approach, study, and framework. In limited amounts, these words can tie together other concepts in the title, but they won't help readers searching for your paper.

Develop a list of terms relavent to your topic, methods, and findings. Once you have a list of terms, brainstorm three to five possible titles, which will force you to try some creative ideas. Then show the list to your coauthors and colleagues for their feedback, and consider whether there are particular themes you like. Another exercise that can be useful is to write a two-sentence description of your manuscript (perhaps condensing from your abstract). Then shorten it down to one sentence, and keep shortening further until you get it under 15 words. A title with a colon can help if you want to describe both a topic and method or topic and application (see examples below).


Less descriptive: “Improved approach to model and measure flood risk”
More descriptive: “Uncovering effects of exposure and vulnerability on atmospheric river flood damage using interpretable machine learning”

Less descriptive: “A novel framework for road network risk management”
More descriptive: “Optimal bridge retrofitting selection for seismic risk management using genetic algorithms and neural network-based surrogate models”

Less descriptive: “Modeling response spectrum compatible pulse-like ground motions”
More descriptive: “Quantitative classification of near-fault ground motions using wavelet analysis”

Title introducing an acronym: “G-DIF: A geospatial data integration framework to rapidly estimate post-earthquake damage”

Title with a topic: method construction: "Effect of ground motion duration on collapse risk: numerical and experimental analyses"

Title with a topic: application construction: "A Methodology to Estimate Post-disaster Unmet Housing Needs Using Limited Data: Application to the 2017 Californian Wildfires"


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