Writing an effective paper title: Strategies for increasing citation count

WordsA number of factors can affect the impact of a research article, including the significance and availability of the journal in which it is published, publication type, subject, length and the author’s standing in the field [1].

The title also plays an important role as the “first point of contact between writer and potential reader” and therefore a carefully sculpted title may influence whether the paper is read [2] and ultimately cited in high-impact journals.

An effective paper title will:

  • Be concise and easy to read;
  • Stimulate sufficient interest for the reader to read the abstract and hopefully the whole article;
  • Be sufficiently informative to convey the essence of the article (i.e., topic and findings discussed); and
  • Distinguish your study from those presented by your competitors, especially in this open access era


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How long should your title be?

According to Habibzadeh and Yadollahie, “longer titles seem to be associated with higher citation rates. This association is more pronounced for journals with high impact factors” [3].

A good rule of thumb here is to aim to make your paper title between 9 and 15 words; any more and you risk losing the attention of your potential reader before they’ve even reached the abstract.

The authors of the above-cited research suggest that including the study’s methodology and/or results in the title may be the main reasons longer headings attract greater scholarly attention, so this is something to consider.

On the contrary, “Shorter titles are easy to read on mobile devices and can be transmitted on communication platforms such as Twitter” [4].


Be descriptive and focus on keywords

Titles that are presented as questions have been shown to be cited less often than articles with descriptive or declarative titles [1].

Unfamiliar abbreviations and acronyms should be avoided. However, well-known ones serve as important keywords in specialised research areas and should be encouraged.

Some disagreement over whether the use of a colon in the title (so-called “compound titles”) exists. The advantage of titles that include a colon might be that they include more keywords and therefore are more findable and visible for searchers.

Finally, “factors that predict poor citation include reference to a specific country in the title” [5].


Three top tips for writing a good paper title

1. Summarise the main theme of your paper in a few sentences to ascertain the most important words and phrases.
2. Aim to convey the relevance of your paper quickly and concisely to hook the reader.
3. Check the target journal’s guidelines to understand any limitations regarding number of words, use of abbreviations and so on.



1. Jamali, H. R., & Nikzad, M. (2011). Article title type and its relation with the number of downloads and citations. Scientometrics, 88(2), 653-661.
2. Haggan, M. (2004). Research paper titles in literature, linguistics and science: Dimensions of attraction. Journal of Pragmatics, 36(2), 293-317.
3. Habibzadeh, F., & Yadollahie, M. (2010). Are shorter article titles more attractive for citations? Crosssectional study of 22 scientific journals. Croatian Medical Journal, 51(2), 165-170.
4. Kumar, M. J. (2013). Editorial Commentary: Making your research paper discoverable: Title plays the winning trick. IETE Technical Review, 30(5), 361-363.
5. Jacques, T. S., & Sebire, N. J. (2010). The impact of article titles on citation hits: An analysis of general and specialist medical journals. JRSM Short Reports, 1(1), 2.


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