Writing and Presenting Your
Thesis or Dissertation
S. Joseph Levine, Ph.D.
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan USA
Note #16 The importance of a good title.
One of the first things I do when I am about to read a thesis or dissertation is to look at the title
of the paper. Sometimes I’ll spend 4 or 5 minutes reflecting on the title before I even turn to
the first page. I use the title to develop my first impressions of the paper I am about to read.
If the title is written well, and provides an accurate picture of the paper, I am able to turn the
page and move ahead very easily. However, many times that is not the case. The title does not
accurately establish the right expectation of what is about to follow and I quickly get confused!
It’s very important to have a good title.
Here is how I think a good title for a thesis or dissertation should be constructed –
First, I think you should use a minimum number of words. The title should be short and very
Second, the title should not be funny or "cute". You should not be using your title to grab the
attention of the reader. Unlike the title for a motion picture that tries to grab the attention of
the viewer, your title should give the reader an accurate view of your paper.
Third, I do not think you need to begin by telling the reader something that he or she already
knows. For instance, it is not necessary to start by saying, “A study of…” or “An examination
of…” You can skip this part and get directly to the words that describe the study.
Fourth, be careful about how you arrange the words in your title. The most important words
should come toward the beginning of the title. The less important words should come toward
the end of the title. Notice the following titles all have the same key words. However, each
title suggests a different focus –
Listening rate of young learners in an out-of-school setting. (focus of research is on
Young learners and the rate at which they listen in out-of-school settings. (focus of
research is on young learners)
Out-of-school settings and the rate at which young learners listen. (focus of research
is on out-of-school settings)
Each of these titles suggests a very different focus for the research and I would expect that
each would have different hypotheses, different literature reviews, and different research
Fifth, if you find that your title is getting too long you may want to consider the addition of a
Young learners and the rate at which they listen:
Comparing in-school and out-of-school settings.
Make sure, however, that the main focus of your study is included in the primary title and if
the secondary title (the sub-title) was accidentally omitted the reader would still have a good
understanding of your major focus.
And sixth, when you are writing your paper have your title clearly printed on a piece of
paper where you can see it and be constantly reminded of it. As you are writing your paper
continually ask yourself if you are being consistent with your title. And, if you are not, maybe
you will need to change your title.
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Writing and Presenting Your Thesis or Dissertation