Titles in Academic Writing

Titles in Academic Writing

  • Oct 11, 2022
  • 3 min read

In academic writing, a strong title hooks the reader, reflects the tone and content of the paper, and contains keywords to increase the paper’s visibility on search engines. If you’re an editor working with academic clients, you may need to highlight issues in their titles and subtitles. Read on for some tips on how to build a strong academic title and what words and phrases you should avoid.

What an Effective Title Should Include

An effective academic title should introduce the paper’s content in as few words as possible. It should also give an indication of the paper’s argument. Usually between 10 and 15 words in length, an academic title often comes in the form of a phrase:

The Quest of Identity: Haitian Literature in the 20th Century
What’s Love? Marriage and Divorce in Victorian England
TikTok Teenagers and the Effects of Social Media on American Youth

To capture the reader’s attention and summarize the content succinctly, an academic title should include a hook, key terms, and focus terms.


The first goal of an academic title is to catch the reader’s attention. The hook should be a creative phrase – no longer than four words – that provides just enough information to pique the reader’s curiosity and invite them to continue reading:

The Quest of Identity…
What’s Love?…
TikTok Teenagers…

As an editor, you can advise your clients to employ literary devices such as alliteration, metaphors, and personification. The hook could also include a cultural reference, an allusion to a sense, or a relevant quote.

Key Terms

After an attention-grabbing hook, you should provide the reader with general information about the paper. Key terms describe what the academic paper is about, and they can be taken directly from the scope of the project. They introduce the content, theories, and arguments that make up the bulk of the paper:

…Haitian Literature…
…Marriage and Divorce…
…the Effects of Social Media…

When constructing the key-term segment of the title, ask your client what the main idea of their research is.

Focus Terms

Once you’ve figured out your key terms, the next step is to make the title as specific as possible. Use focus terms to give the reader more information, such as what time period, geographic scope, or demographic the paper covers:

…in the 20th Century
…in Victorian England
…on American Youth

To help your client narrow down their focus terms, ask them to think about the “who” and “when” of their paper.

Words and Phrases to Avoid

Academic titles should be as succinct as possible for the reader’s sake. Get rid of vague expressions and non-specific openings – only words and phrases that add meaning should make the cut:

Code Red: Investigations on the Avian Flu Outbreak in South Dakota
Code Red: Avian Flu Outbreak in South Dakota

In your client’s work, look out for these phrases that don’t contribute meaning to a title:

  • Study of…
  • Report on…
  • Results on…
  • Investigations of…
  • Analysis of…
  • An Observation of…

Professional Editing

We hope this guide will help you assist clients in formulating effective academic titles. If you’re curious about becoming an editor, check out our Proofreader and Editor Course Bundle, which provides thorough instruction on professional proofreading and editing. If you want to learn more before buying, you can try either course for free.

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