How to Nail Your Paper’s Title and Abstract

You’ve written your paper, double-checked the references, and formatted it for submission. There’s just one thing missing — the title, which needs to tell a story and use keywords effectively to maximize discovery of your paper, all in just a short space. Writing a good title for a scientific paper is more challenging than it may seem at first, but with the help of our partners at Oxford University Press, we’ve put together some tips that will help you nail it! 

A good title tells a story and clearly states a key finding. When someone visits a journal website or follows a publisher’s social media account, all they may initially see of your paper is the title. Is your title enticing, even for someone who may not be familiar with your specific area of research? Does it provide enough information on what the paper is about for a potential reader to decide whether or not it’s worth clicking on it and learning more? Consider putting your title in the form of a complete sentence, making a statement about what the findings show.

Good: Early detection of rapid Barred Owl population growth within the range of the California Spotted Owl advises the Precautionary Principle

Bad: Barred Owl population growth in the range of the California Spotted Owl

A good title includes thoughtfully selected keywords to help people find it via search. Make sure to include the name of the species you studied and enough detail to clearly indicate the topic. However, don’t carry this too far — attempting to cram every possible keyword into your title can make it overly long and actually make your paper less likely to be discovered in its intended context!

Good: Anthropogenic noise does not surpass land cover in explaining habitat selection of Greater Prairie-Chicken

Bad: Noise and land cover effects on habitat selection of an endangered grouse

A good title works well together with your abstract to further highlight those keywords. As a general rule, repeat your most important keywords in the keyword field and abstract as well as the title whenever possible. A good way to do this is to think of the best 5-7 keywords to describe your article and rank them in order of primacy; at the very least, the top one or two should appear in the title and the top three should be repeated within the abstract. Ask yourself what keywords would someone use to search for your article.

The abstract is the most important paragraph in your paper, and abstracts are highly visible in search engines like Google. Put key results in the beginning of the abstract, as the first two sentences are the most discoverable by search engines.

Title: Barred Owls reduce occupancy and breeding propensity of Northern Spotted Owl in a Washington old-growth forest

Abstract: The Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), a species designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, now co-occurs with behaviorally dominant Barred Owls (S. varia) throughout much of its range in the western United States.  We found that Barred Owls reduce the occupancy and breeding propensity of Northern Spotted Owls even in Mount Rainier National Park (MRNP), Washington, a vast area with virtually no history of timber harvest or large forest disturbance since the park’s creation in 1899. We used a multi-state, multi-season occupancy model to investigate how Northern Spotted Owl occupancy dynamics and breeding propensity are related to the presence of Barred Owls, local and regional weather, and habitat characteristics at MRNP from 1997 to 2016. Historical occupancy of Northern Spotted Owl breeding territories in MRNP has declined by 50% in the last 20 yr, and territory occupancy by breeding Northern Spotted Owls also decreased, reaching a low of 25% in 2016. Occupancy rates were higher on territories with steeper terrain and breeding rates were lower when Barred Owls were detected within historical territories. Our results also indicated that breeding propensity was higher when early nesting season temperatures during March and April were higher. In addition, the ability to detect breeding Northern Spotted Owls decreased when Barred Owls were present in the territory. Habitat variables from LiDAR were not correlated with Northern Spotted Owl occupancy dynamics, likely reflecting the dominance of old-growth forest in this protected park. This study illustrates the strong relationship between Barred Owls and Northern Spotted Owl demographics and breeding site selection in a landscape where habitat loss by timber harvest and fire has not occurred.

Once you’ve written the perfect title, consider submitting your paper to an AOS journal! The Auk and The Condor have the highest impact factors among the world’s ornithological journals, and have no page charges for AOS members. We look forward to reviewing your work!

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