Drafting Papers: The Title 1

Writing a paper can seem an overwhelming task initially, since there are many points to include, and it may seem very difficult to arrange the information coherently and appropriately. However, scientific papers follow a standard format, with minor variations, based on discrete sections (Abstract/Summary, Introduction, etc.), in which information on various aspects of the study should be presented in a strict order.

Let us consider how brief statements can be used to construct the paper Title  (although in practice these components are often written last, partly because when a paper is written important aspects of the study that were initially forgotten may be remembered, and partly because they are the most critical parts of  paper).

Providing all the key information is most difficult, but most essential, in the Title, for the following reasons:

• It is the only parts of the paper that are read by many readers, and often the only parts that are freely available

• It has to summarize the study and be fully understandable without the rest of the paper

• It must be short

• It must show that the study has novel aspects.

Let us consider first how brief statements can help us to write a Title for a simple hypothetical case study.

The Title of a Hypothetical Case Study

  • Rationale: Substantial proportions of crops in northern Sucrosia are lost to grazing by deer (Cervus unreal) roaming from neighboring hills. Current methods for deterring the deer are criticized for being inhumane, expensive and/or ineffective. It has been postulated that applications of synthesized volatiles from urine of wolf (Canis lupissubspecies imaginary) could be cheaper and more effective than current methods, but first it is necessary to check that wolf urine is an effective deterrent.
  • Objective: To test the hypothesis that wolf (Canis lupis subspecies imaginary) urine is an effective deterrent.
  • What was done: Duplicate sets of three enclosures containing grass meadow surrounding plots of wheat, maize and pea crops were established. Wolf urine was applied around the perimeters of the plots in one set of enclosures, but not the other. Matched herds of deer were then introduced to each enclosure, and the proportions of the crops consumed in the plots surrounded by wolf urine and the other (control) plots were observed.
  • Findings: The deer rapidly consumed the crops in the control plots, but completely avoided the plots that had been surrounded by wolf urine.
  • Implications: Urine of wolf subspecies imaginary is an effective, odor-based deer deterrent.

Such a straightforward study, in which a single hypothesis was postulated and tested, and the results were very clear, would almost certainly be presented as a Short communication. However, as previously mentioned, even  communications in which most or all of the text is merged into a single section can generally be divided into standard sub-sections (Title, Abstract etc.) even if they are not formally separated by sub-headings. Thus, let us consider first how these brief statements can help when writing a Title.

In such cases, one often sees titles such as:

Effects of wolf urine on deer grazing crops

However, merely jotting down and slightly modifying the main findings or implicationsgives a much more informative title:

Urine of wolf subspecies imaginary deters Cervus unreal deer from grazing crops in northern Sucrosia

Similarly, for instance:

Ice on pavements increases risks of falls

is better than

Effects of ice on pavements on frequencies of falls

Such titles tell the editor and referees of a journal immediately whether or not the paper is likely to be of interest to the readers, and thus if it is worth considering. However, it is not always possible to summarize findings or implications in a title. For example, effects of diverse climatic, soil and other environmental factors on wheat yields in Sucrosia may have been examined. In such cases, it is often possible to write a clear, informative title by simply jotting down a modified form of the objectives, perhaps as follows:

Multi-factorial analysis of the effects of environmental variables on wheat yields in Sucrosia


Note:

This hypothetical case study are fictitious; it does not necessarily reflect real situations in any way. In addition, the example is ecological, partly because ecological examples are easier to understand for scientists generally than (for instance) quantum mechanical modeling.


Reference:

Blackwell, J., & Martin, J. (2011). A scientific approach to scientific writing (pp.14-16). Springer Science & Business Media.

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