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I heard one of my lecturers says that it is always better to start the paper title with a verb. According to the lecturer, the verb leave that impression about something has been accomplished. For example, use Design, develop ... etc. I tried to find any supportive resources about that but I could not. The other question, is it better to use verb+ing or not (e.g. Developing vs. Develop)? Most of references that speak about choosing title do not pay much attention to the syntax.

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Please no "developing". Try "development". "Design" is both a verb and a noun, so you're save. –  tohecz Jan 7 at 10:04
    
@tohecz Huh? What's wrong with "Developing..."? (About 40% of my publications have titles of the form <verb>ing <noun phrase>.) –  JeffE Jan 8 at 5:35
    
Paving the way for bridging the gap between developing new benchmarking methods for machine learning and addressing engineering issues. I think I should be sleeping now... anyway, gerunds are very common, not only because something "has been achieved" but because it's being achieved, it gives a feeling of "present", which is always more interesting than the forgotten past and the never happening future. –  Trylks Jan 8 at 14:08
    
What tense should paper titles use? has some good info about the use of gerunds (verbs). –  Austin Henley Jan 8 at 18:38
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6 Answers

I see two issues here. The one is the stylistic sense that some people have developed over their life and that is not necessarily always to be generalized. The other is the strictness of such "style advice".

For the first issue: Everybody develops some kind of preferences about stylistic things they like or dislike and things they believe to be (or have worked) better than others. This personal preference does not necessarily coincide with what is generally considered to be good style, which means it could be true in the special environment of this person but it could also be some anecdotal experience that has no broader foundation. Therefore I would be somewhat cautious to take such advice too strict when it comes from a single person and you cannot find it anywhere else.

For the second: Let's consider this rule exists (which I don't know and didn't check), you shouldn't take it as a strict "law". If you have a title that fulfils the rule and you feel good with it, then go for it. But don't try to twist your formulation just to meet this single criterion as the confusion that you create with it might outweigh the "beauty" that you win by starting the title with a verb.

TL;DR: Be careful with possibly subjective "style advice" and don't take style guides as strict "laws".

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I am neither a native English speaker nor a language expert but here are my two cents. I recall hearing (more than once) that it's best to start strong. In other words, what you feel your paper is really about should be the first thing you express; if it is doing something that wasn't possible to do previously then a word expressing an action is a good call. Ex: "Refinement of XYZ process using awesome method A".

Otherwise if you are doing something in a different way then it might be good to point out what's new with your way of doing that particular thing; "Multispectral analysis of bioluminesce in deep ocean habitats" (random made-up example).

In the first example you are "advertising" that you are refining XYZ process and that's the cool thing with your paper, whereas in the second example you are pointing out that you are analysing things in multiple light spectra.

In either way the first word isn't a verb, but could be a noun form of a verb; i.e. to refine -> refinement. The problem with using the "-ing" form is that it might give the idea of continuousness, which is out of place as the work is already done in most cases.

Hope that makes some sense :)

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Writing a good title is perhaps the hardest part of authoring. Writing a good title is not so much a matter of style as a matter of good communication. Some key points I therefore try to follow for a title can be summarized as follows

  • predict and describe the content; recapitulate the conclusion

  • be succinct and comprise one or possibly two facts

  • include one active verb in present tense to form subject-active verb-objective

  • Avoid complicated wording and use no more than three modifiers for any noun

A pair of good sources on general science writing which includes formulation of titles:

Glasman-Deal, H., 2012. Science research writing for non-native speakers of English. Imperial College Press, London

and

Day, R.A. & Sakaduski, N., 2011. Scientific English. A guide for scientists and other professionals. Greenwood, Santa Barbara CA

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What has not been mentioned in the above answers is that the nature of a title tends also to vary significantly between disciplines.

For instance, in the biological and medical sciences, the titles of journal articles tend to be summaries of the key findings of the paper:

Overexpression of Gene A Leads to Suppression of the X-Y Pathway in Organism Z under Type A Conditions

In effect, the title serves as a minimalist abstract of the paper.

In contrast to this, papers in the physical and mathematical sciences tend to have shorter titles that don't necessarily say much about the content of the article:

Technique X for Studying Y in Material Z

or

A Proof of Theorem X for Conditions Y

Titles in the humanities can be much more creative, and use wordplay, literary quotes, and allusions:

"Touches of Sweet Harmony": A Study of Organ Construction in Shakespeare's England

Now, your title need not fit into the specific norms of your field, but in that case, you better have a solid reason for doing so.

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Select your target journal.

Analyse the most recent 100 paper's titles in that journal. How many start with a verb? How many have colons? What are the median and mode number of words in a title?

Make your title follow the most common format.

That's the first-order effect: maximising the chance of getting published.

The second-order effect is maximising the chance of getting cited. So repeat the above analysis, for the 100 most cited papers from the last ten years, in your target journal. Adjust citations for length of time lapsed since they were published.

Now try to combine these findings into a happy blend that maximises both your chance of getting published, and of being cited.

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A lot of people are giving the exact opposite advice I would give. Most papers go un-cited! You absolutely don't want to be too conventional. If you want to analyze titles experimentally do the following

  1. Get together with a bunch of postdocs, grad students and professors in your field.

  2. Pick a popular journal in your field to analyze and a date range, at least 5 years older than the current date but not too old to be ridiculously obsolete.

  3. Everyone choose 5 papers they remember being really important that received a lot of citations, 5 really important papers that received few citations and 5 middle of the road papers

  4. Look at the titles. Is there something different about the highly cited papers' titles?

  5. If the answer is yes consider going with that, if the answer is no, use your own style and creativity, and ignore most things (although you should follow some common sense).

This actually sounds like a fun party idea. Note the methods are probably really flawed since I just thought about this. Feel free to comment below on an improved experimental design.

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