A headline that works: features and tips (2023)

By Ksenia Maryasova, AWC manager.

Judging a book by its cover is a futile task, but falling into this trap is easy. We often judge books by their covers and research articles by their titles.

A headline that works: features and tips (1)

The title occupies a unique place in the text, as it immediately grabs the reader's attention and influences their decision to read the work or not. It's a good idea to take advantage of this fact and create a concise, informative and memorable title that will draw in the reader.

What might cost you a few head scratches is condensing the entire article into one short sentence without sacrificing anything relevant, while still engaging the reader. In this post, we'll focus on what makes a good headline and how to get the result you want.

In 2005, rhetoricians Hairson and Keene wrote in their booksuccessful writingpresented four objectives that every good title achieves.

  1. A good title predicts the research content

A good title tells the reader exactly what the article is about. The main function of a title is to explain what the article is about without misleading or creating false expectations. Make sure it doesn't contain anything your reader can't find in the newspaper.

We found an interesting case of Christian Kastner, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, who has accumulated more than 30 titles for his research. The first title was "50 years is long enough". What do you think his study is about? It is very difficult to guess, as the title is vague and uninformative.

After going through a long list of ideas, the author decided to call it The Love and Hate Relationship with the C Preprocessor: An Interview Study, making the research method clear; The reader can also anticipate the purpose of the study: to determine user attitudes towards the C preprocessor.

What questions does your work try to answer and what does it accomplish?

2. A good title should be interesting to the reader

To make the title interesting, attractive and easy to read, use words that make a positive impression and pique the reader's interest. The above example is catchy enough to make a catchy headline.

However, be careful if you want to use a catchy phrase. While stylistic devices make titles funnier and more engaging, these titles may not be unique. If you're trying to add some panache, make sure your headline conveys information clearly and concisely, communicates the message clearly, and doesn't encourage multiple interpretations.

How about another Kastner title example?

Variability-aware analysis in the presence of lexical macros and conditional compilation

How do you like it? Feel like reading the newspaper? Probably not. It seems very dry as it contains very specialized vocabulary that can only be clear to experts. There is also no indication of the nature of the study or the results.

This is the second version of the same title:

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SuperC: analyzing C by taming the preprocessor

It's flashier and much more intuitive. SuperC, the name given to the program, alludes to a superhero; The verb "tame" creates a strong image.

To appeal to a wider audience, choose your words carefully, avoiding technical terms and specific vocabulary whenever possible. Instead, look for words that create vivid images.

3. Reflects the tone of the writing

It is very important to define the tone of your research in the title and to maintain it throughout the work. If it is a serious and conventional academic study, avoid a casual or funny title that contains elaborate or colloquial language.

Medical research is serious business. Therefore, it is best to avoid fun or hilarious titles for research articles. While initially attention-grabbing, findings in articles with funny or humorous titles tend to be taken less seriously and cited less often.(Bavdekar, 2016)

Let's check some titles with inappropriate audio:

All that effort to design software metrics? Safe!

Should I teach my son to code at age 3? (Perhaps!)

The colloquial tone of these titles is inappropriate for a research paper and better suited for light reading.

4. Contains important keywords

Keywords are important words and concepts commonly used in your search. Using them in the title allows you to immediately present the topic, problem or solution.

Let's look at the examples from the bookHow to write and illustrate a scientific articlevon Björn Gustavi:

The effect of the calcium antagonist felodipine on blood pressure, heart rate... in patients with essential hyperextension

According to Gustavi, this title is not very effective, as it only reveals at the end which disease was studied. He advises putting keywords at the beginning of the title. This makes it immediately clear what you studied and makes your search easier to find:

Essential Hypertension: The Effect of…

Take a look at the following titles and review them based on the features we've discussed - do they?Anticipate content, spark interest, and mirror tone?

It's Time for a Marketing Curriculum Overhaul: Developing a Digital-First Approach

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A headline that works: features and tips (2)

Now that we've discussed the qualities that make up a good headline, let's look at tips for making it powerful and searchable.

Concise and to the point.In 2012, Paiva research showed that articles with short titles “had higher view and citation rates than articles with longer titles. Articles with descriptive outcome titles were cited more frequently than those with descriptive method titles”.

The APA recommends that your title be no longer than 12 words. If it is too long, it may contain many unnecessary words.

The following titles are too long. Your mind is likely to start wandering halfway through. how would you shorten them?

Social impact: testing the predictive power of your dimensions when declaring intent to deploy mobile learning systems in universities - empirical evidence from Ugandan universities

An empirical study of the effects of self-regulation and Unified Theory of Technology Acceptance and Use (UTAUT) factors on behavioral intention in online learning by college students

Avoid non-specific language such as "a study to be studied", "a review of", "a report on". These phrases are very obvious and often unnecessary.

A study examining the relationship between locus of control and student academic performance

On the other hand, if a title is too short, it's a slippery slope to make it too broad and unspecific, and the reader won't be able to get the gist. For example, an educational treatise titled "Learn How" is so unspecific that it could be the title of a DIY guide.

Include variables.To write an informative headline, identify key, dependent, and independent variables. Propose a relationship between the variables in relation to the main hypothesis:

Effects of a new toothpaste (YummyTooth) on caries incidence in 1st grade children.

In this study, toothpaste is the independentVariable Xand the number of tooth decay depends on itVariable Y. Therefore, the relationship between the variables is reflected in the title:

effects ofxOneYin children of the 1st

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Titles that reflect the relationship between variables often contain words likeImpact, impact, impact.Here are some more examples of such titles:

Oeffectsof cooperative learning on mathematics performance in Turkey: a meta-analysis study

exploration ofimpactcommuting to campus in mental wellness

OInfluencefrom electronic word of mouth to college polling and voting

stay activeUse active verbs and structures instead of passive and complex sentences based on nouns that can distract the reader's attention. According to Gustavii, transforming the noun into a verb makes the sentence more dynamic.

Compare the following examples:

Treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome

How to treat polycystic ovary syndrome...

Here are some examples of passive voice titles. How would you paraphrase them?

Perspectives of effective coaching by the coachee

Do retained students' test scores predict future performance?

The dynamics of cognitive performance: what has been learned from empirical research in science education

Instead of asking, answer.Titles with a question mark, colon or hyphen were associated with fewer citations (Paiva et al., 2012)

Instead of a title in the form of a question -Why is the C preprocessor still breathing?,It is best to tell the reader the answer at the outset –Speaking of the C preprocessor: error prone but necessary.

Read the following headings and formulate question statements:

Do the Big Five Personality Traits Predict Empathetic Listening and Confident Communication?

Contextual influences on the role of evidence in health policy development: what can we learn from six policies in India and Nigeria?

Can student populations in developing countries be reached through online surveys? The case of the National Service Scheme Survey in Ghana

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Avoid using exclamation points and remember to capitalize all content words.

Avoid abbreviations and technical jargon.The use of unusual abbreviations in the title distracts and annoys the reader. If it is necessary to use acronyms in the title, it is advisable to spell it out, unless they are well known, for example B. NASA or WWF. Otherwise, there's a chance that readers unfamiliar with the acronym will skip the article altogether.

We tried GooglePC,one of the best known acronyms. The results were impressive - The Free Dictionary returned 325 results, includingpersonal computer,politically correctEplasma cell.So even the most curious reader may never figure out what you meant by the acronym.

Here are some real research titles with acronyms. What do you think of them? Is your message clear?

Why are international students becoming "TEF-ed Out"?

The QDAS discourse: ATLAS.ti and NVivo user practice reports with implications for best practices

A historical study of employee turnover in the ITES/BPO industry

Titles with technical jargon or too many technical terms are considered uninteresting, unnecessarily complex, and difficult to read. They can confuse readers and make them ignore the article altogether.

Writing a headline isn't easy, but it's worth the effort. Keeping in mind the traits and tips you've learned, create a concise, informative title that grabs the reader's full attention.

If you want to learn more about the step-by-step process of writing a title, follow these links:

A step-by-step guide to writing a headline:https://wordvice.com/how-to-write-the-perfect-title-for-your-search-paper/

How to write subtitles:


Checklist for finalizing the title of a research article



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  1. Hairston, M. & Keene, M. 2003.Successful To write. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5th ed. Nova York: Norton.
  2. Title, abstract and keywords.https://www.springer.com/gp/authors-editors/authorandreviewertutorials/writing-a-journal-manuscript/title-abstract-and-keywords/10285522
  3. How to write a good title for a research paper.https://papersowl.com/blog/how-to-write-a-good-research-paper-title
  4. On paper, titles (Bad Ideas, Rejected Ideas and Final Titles).https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~ckaestne/ontitles/
  5. How to choose the best keywords for your research paper.https://wordvice.com/choosing-research-paper-keywords/
  6. Articles with short titles describing the results are cited more often.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3351256/
  7. Research bases for the health professions.http://www.pt.armstrong.edu/wright/hlpr/text/3.1.variables.htm
  8. Formulate the correct title for a research article.http://www.japi.org/february_2016/08_aow_formulated_the_right.pdf
  9. Gustavii, B. 2008. How to write and illustrate an academic paper. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press


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