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My thesis title is:

Study the phase-shifting behavior in the complex reaction mechanism.

My external examiner suggested changing it to

Study of the phase-shifting ... .

But due to university rules it is not possible at this stage of Ph.D. Can I continue with the title? Is this at least academically or technically correct?

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    I don't see that the slight change to the wording changes the meaning at all. If the university doesn't want the title changed, don't change it. It changes nothing about your thesis.
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 7, 2023 at 17:12
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    Your "title" reads like a command to do something, not a description of what has been done.
    – Buffy
    Apr 7, 2023 at 18:58
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    Did someone tell you that correcting a typo-level mistake would count as changing your title?
    – Nat
    Apr 8, 2023 at 5:34
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    If you do get a chance to change it, you should also change "the complex reaction mechanism" to either "a complex reaction mechanism" or "complex reaction mechanisms" (depending on whether you studied a specific reaction mechanism or the general theory).
    – N. Virgo
    Apr 8, 2023 at 6:39
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    "But due to university rules it is not possible at this stage of Ph.D." <- I absolute don't believe that's true. Go further up the academic authority chain, with the help of your supervisor of course, and make it happen.
    – einpoklum
    Apr 8, 2023 at 15:21

6 Answers 6

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I'd say your thesis title as written contains a grammatical error. If your institution considers repair of a grammatical error to be "changing a topic", that's a ridiculous policy but not something anyone here can do a thing about.

Probably the external examiner will roll their eyes at this silly policy if you tell them it can't be changed due to the reason you state, but I can't see why they would make this an obstacle for your graduation, since your thesis is about phase-shifting behavior in a complex reaction mechanism, not about English grammar. It's unlikely that this will be their first experience with a silly policy in academia.

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It's technically and academically incorrect English grammar.

A standard English reader would take this as a signal that it comes from a low-quality institution.

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    I don't know what "academically incorrect English grammar" is. Personally I would view the current title as being likely written by a non-native speaker, but I wouldn't see it as reasonable to make an inference about the quality of the research based on that, let alone the whole institution.
    – N. Virgo
    Apr 8, 2023 at 6:44
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    @N.Virgo: No, faulty grammar does not necessarily point to faulty research. And it can even be argued here that the title might be "ok-ish, though unusual and not overly pretty". But I think the point is rather another - I agree with this answer in that there may be a non-negligible risk of a certain portion of readers thinking something like: "If the supervisor/institution missed even this obvious and trivially fixable style issue, what else did they miss? Do they actually check what the student hands in or do they just rubber-stamp it?" Apr 8, 2023 at 8:15
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It doesn't conform to the usual style for academic paper titles in English, which is that the title usually functions as a noun phrase describing the paper's content. Your "Study the..." title seems to instead be a verb phrase describing what the author did, or maybe what the thesis is going to do. It also happens to function as a complete sentence with "study" in the imperative mood, which as others mentioned, makes it sound like a command.

Adding "of" helps, in that it makes "study" function instead as a noun (meaning "examination", "investigation", etc), and so it sounds more like a noun phrase.

Personally, I would remove "study" altogether as it's redundant: the reader already knows that the paper is studying something, that's the whole point of a thesis. So I'd just make it "Phase-shifting behavior in the complex reaction mechanism".

I'd also look carefully at the definite article "the" before "complex reaction mechanism". If this is a term of art in your field that refers to a specific mechanism, and when you say "the complex reaction mechanism" people know exactly which mechanism you mean, then "the" might be okay. But if you are simply talking about an unspecified reaction mechanism that happens to be complex, then you would not use a definite article, and would instead say something like "Phase-shifting behavior in a complex reaction mechanism", or "Phase-shifting behavior in complex reaction mechanisms." Articles ("a", "an", "the") are often a challenge for learners of English, so you might want to consult with someone who knows the terminology of your field, and is experienced with reading and writing academic English.

If I were in your situation, I would make a reasonable effort to get the title changed. If it's a matter of filling out a form, or making a phone call, or contacting the boss of whoever told you that you couldn't do it, it would be worthwhile. Even if it's a university rule, there is almost certainly some person or group who has the power to make an exception, and there is also very likely to be a process for making a formal request to that person or group. On the other hand, if it would require a major hardship to get it changed, like paying a large fee or delaying graduation, then I would just let it go.

Relatively few people are likely to read your thesis anyway, so it probably isn't such a big deal. But if you will be publishing one or more papers based on your thesis, they will be more visible, so you'll want to be more careful with your grammar and proofreading.

Also, when listing the thesis title on your website, CV, etc, I would be inclined to list the corrected title. Yes, yes, normally you should always cite documents by their exact title with no changes, but adding a stop word like "of" isn't really going to cause any problems.

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    I would say to either correct the title everywhere or nowhere; having even slightly different titles in different places can make searching for the article (depending on the search engine and configuration used) and making sure it's the right one much more difficult. Apr 8, 2023 at 21:20
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Talk with your University's admin and say it was just a small typo and you just want to add two letters to correct the typo.

Most admin will help you to do this.

However, if they refuse your request, just change nothing. You are a chemistry researcher and people will look into your chemistry contribution (not English grammar); one typo, which is not meaning-changing, is very forgivable.

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    I would disagree that it is "forgivable". This title shows you as naive to the academic process. (The title should not have been allowed in this form in the first place). However it is indeed textual/grammar change not a change of topic. I hate these policies that confuse titles (you put on the front of the "thing" with the topic). Apr 8, 2023 at 19:18
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    "people will look into your chemistry contribution (not English grammar" seems a bit optimistic. I'd say there's a non-negligible chance that some reader might see this and think "wow their advisor didn't even catch such an obvious mistake in the title, did they just rubberstamp the whole work? What other mistakes did they miss?"
    – Voo
    Apr 8, 2023 at 21:07
  • @Voo Mediocre English skill is not an indicator poor Chemistry skill. I'd say more than fifty percent of chemistry researchers in history or at the present are not native English speaker. Hell, even the Declaration of Independence, written by native English speakers, contained a typo in its early versions. If an organization look down upon you only because of one typo, it is not the organization you want to stay with.
    – dodo
    Apr 9, 2023 at 9:34
  • @PauldeVrieze If it is a typo that make researchers misunderstand the meaning, then I'd say the writer is kind of “naive“, as suggested by you. However, in this specific case, no one would misunderstand the meaning because of the typo. Don't overthink a typo.
    – dodo
    Apr 9, 2023 at 9:37
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As most others have commented, the title is grammatically incorrect. Nor do I think a great deal of your supervisor's suggestion. My suggestion would be to make a simple change that would place your title in a grand tradition. Specifically, replace "Study the" with the word "On" so that the title reads:

On phase-shifting behavior in the complex reaction mechanism

The tradition of commencing the titles of scientific articles with the word "On" reaches back more than 200 years from the present. Examples, including modern examples, include:

  • On the Feasibility of Side-Channel Attacks with Brain-Computer Interfaces (Martinovich, 2012)
  • On the Cognitive Benefits of Cultural Experience (Lee, 2012)
  • On the Origin of Species (Darwin)
  • On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies (Einstein, 1905)
  • On the Theory of Relativity (Carmichael, 1913)
  • On the Quantum Theory of Radiation (Einstein, 1916, translation)
  • On the Problem of Empathy (Stein, 1916)
  • On the Nature of the Chemical Bond (Cunningham, 2017)
  • On the Problem of Three Bodies (Chalis 1856)
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  • 1. Not very specific - and we need specific titles to enable better searchability. 2. The "On ..." is a bit pretentious, isn't it ? It's not as if the author is writing the first and last words on this subject for the present age, is it ? They are simply exploring it to a degree of new results/perspectives. Why not include Principles Of Least Action In Quantum Mechanics (Feynman, 1942) . . .
    – Trunk
    Apr 11, 2023 at 11:34
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No, the present title reads like a bad translation of a title in another language.

Yes, you can change the title as the research evolves to make it more representative of the final work.

In English speaking countries a thesis like that would normally be titled as either

A Study Of Phase-Shifting Behaviour In A Complex Reaction Mechanism

or

Studies In Phase-Shifting Behaviour In A Complex Reaction Mechanism

if you studied just a single complex reaction mechanism and drew no general conclusions.

But if several complex reaction mechanisms were investigated you might title it as

Studies In Phase-Shifting Behaviour In Complex Reaction Mechanisms

It might be an idea to add some qualifier before " ... Reaction Mechanism" that references the category of chemical reaction which you are studying, e.g. combustion, decomposition, redox, etc, and the class of chemical substances involved, e.g. metals, metal oxides, organic liquid, polymer, etc, as chemical reactions is a huge field and a thesis title is better when searchable on keywords.

For example,

Studies In Phase-Shifting Behaviour In Complex Polymerization Reaction Mechanisms

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