Hypothesis definition and example

Hypothesis n., plural: hypotheses [/haɪˈpɑːθəsɪs/] Definition: Testable scientific prediction

Table of Contents

What Is Hypothesis?

A scientific hypothesis is a foundational element of the scientific method . It’s a testable statement proposing a potential explanation for natural phenomena. The term hypothesis means “little theory” . A hypothesis is a short statement that can be tested and gives a possible reason for a phenomenon or a possible link between two variables . In the setting of scientific research, a hypothesis is a tentative explanation or statement that can be proven wrong and is used to guide experiments and empirical research.

What is Hypothesis

It is an important part of the scientific method because it gives a basis for planning tests, gathering data, and judging evidence to see if it is true and could help us understand how natural things work. Several hypotheses can be tested in the real world, and the results of careful and systematic observation and analysis can be used to support, reject, or improve them.

Researchers and scientists often use the word hypothesis to refer to this educated guess . These hypotheses are firmly established based on scientific principles and the rigorous testing of new technology and experiments .

For example, in astrophysics, the Big Bang Theory is a working hypothesis that explains the origins of the universe and considers it as a natural phenomenon. It is among the most prominent scientific hypotheses in the field.

“The scientific method: steps, terms, and examples” by Scishow:

Biology definition: A hypothesis  is a supposition or tentative explanation for (a group of) phenomena, (a set of) facts, or a scientific inquiry that may be tested, verified or answered by further investigation or methodological experiment. It is like a scientific guess . It’s an idea or prediction that scientists make before they do experiments. They use it to guess what might happen and then test it to see if they were right. It’s like a smart guess that helps them learn new things. A scientific hypothesis that has been verified through scientific experiment and research may well be considered a scientific theory .

Etymology: The word “hypothesis” comes from the Greek word “hupothesis,” which means “a basis” or “a supposition.” It combines “hupo” (under) and “thesis” (placing). Synonym:   proposition; assumption; conjecture; postulate Compare:   theory See also: null hypothesis

Characteristics Of Hypothesis

A useful hypothesis must have the following qualities:

  • It should never be written as a question.
  • You should be able to test it in the real world to see if it’s right or wrong.
  • It needs to be clear and exact.
  • It should list the factors that will be used to figure out the relationship.
  • It should only talk about one thing. You can make a theory in either a descriptive or form of relationship.
  • It shouldn’t go against any natural rule that everyone knows is true. Verification will be done well with the tools and methods that are available.
  • It should be written in as simple a way as possible so that everyone can understand it.
  • It must explain what happened to make an answer necessary.
  • It should be testable in a fair amount of time.
  • It shouldn’t say different things.

Sources Of Hypothesis

Sources of hypothesis are:

  • Patterns of similarity between the phenomenon under investigation and existing hypotheses.
  • Insights derived from prior research, concurrent observations, and insights from opposing perspectives.
  • The formulations are derived from accepted scientific theories and proposed by researchers.
  • In research, it’s essential to consider hypothesis as different subject areas may require various hypotheses (plural form of hypothesis). Researchers also establish a significance level to determine the strength of evidence supporting a hypothesis.
  • Individual cognitive processes also contribute to the formation of hypotheses.

One hypothesis is a tentative explanation for an observation or phenomenon. It is based on prior knowledge and understanding of the world, and it can be tested by gathering and analyzing data. Observed facts are the data that are collected to test a hypothesis. They can support or refute the hypothesis.

For example, the hypothesis that “eating more fruits and vegetables will improve your health” can be tested by gathering data on the health of people who eat different amounts of fruits and vegetables. If the people who eat more fruits and vegetables are healthier than those who eat less fruits and vegetables, then the hypothesis is supported.

Hypotheses are essential for scientific inquiry. They help scientists to focus their research, to design experiments, and to interpret their results. They are also essential for the development of scientific theories.

Types Of Hypothesis

In research, you typically encounter two types of hypothesis: the alternative hypothesis (which proposes a relationship between variables) and the null hypothesis (which suggests no relationship).

Hypothesis testing

Simple Hypothesis

It illustrates the association between one dependent variable and one independent variable. For instance, if you consume more vegetables, you will lose weight more quickly. Here, increasing vegetable consumption is the independent variable, while weight loss is the dependent variable.

Complex Hypothesis

It exhibits the relationship between at least two dependent variables and at least two independent variables. Eating more vegetables and fruits results in weight loss, radiant skin, and a decreased risk of numerous diseases, including heart disease.

Directional Hypothesis

It shows that a researcher wants to reach a certain goal. The way the factors are related can also tell us about their nature. For example, four-year-old children who eat well over a time of five years have a higher IQ than children who don’t eat well. This shows what happened and how it happened.

Non-directional Hypothesis

When there is no theory involved, it is used. It is a statement that there is a connection between two variables, but it doesn’t say what that relationship is or which way it goes.

Null Hypothesis

It says something that goes against the theory. It’s a statement that says something is not true, and there is no link between the independent and dependent factors. “H 0 ” represents the null hypothesis.

Associative and Causal Hypothesis

When a change in one variable causes a change in the other variable, this is called the associative hypothesis . The causal hypothesis, on the other hand, says that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between two or more factors.

Examples Of Hypothesis

Examples of simple hypotheses:

  • Students who consume breakfast before taking a math test will have a better overall performance than students who do not consume breakfast.
  • Students who experience test anxiety before an English examination will get lower scores than students who do not experience test anxiety.
  • Motorists who talk on the phone while driving will be more likely to make errors on a driving course than those who do not talk on the phone, is a statement that suggests that drivers who talk on the phone while driving are more likely to make mistakes.

Examples of a complex hypothesis:

  • Individuals who consume a lot of sugar and don’t get much exercise are at an increased risk of developing depression.
  • Younger people who are routinely exposed to green, outdoor areas have better subjective well-being than older adults who have limited exposure to green spaces, according to a new study.
  • Increased levels of air pollution led to higher rates of respiratory illnesses, which in turn resulted in increased costs for healthcare for the affected communities.

Examples of Directional Hypothesis:

  • The crop yield will go up a lot if the amount of fertilizer is increased.
  • Patients who have surgery and are exposed to more stress will need more time to get better.
  • Increasing the frequency of brand advertising on social media will lead to a significant increase in brand awareness among the target audience.

Examples of Non-Directional Hypothesis (or Two-Tailed Hypothesis):

  • The test scores of two groups of students are very different from each other.
  • There is a link between gender and being happy at work.
  • There is a correlation between the amount of caffeine an individual consumes and the speed with which they react.

Examples of a null hypothesis:

  • Children who receive a new reading intervention will have scores that are different than students who do not receive the intervention.
  • The results of a memory recall test will not reveal any significant gap in performance between children and adults.
  • There is not a significant relationship between the number of hours spent playing video games and academic performance.

Examples of Associative Hypothesis:

  • There is a link between how many hours you spend studying and how well you do in school.
  • Drinking sugary drinks is bad for your health as a whole.
  • There is an association between socioeconomic status and access to quality healthcare services in urban neighborhoods.

Functions Of Hypothesis

The research issue can be understood better with the help of a hypothesis, which is why developing one is crucial. The following are some of the specific roles that a hypothesis plays: (Rashid, Apr 20, 2022)

  • A hypothesis gives a study a point of concentration. It enlightens us as to the specific characteristics of a study subject we need to look into.
  • It instructs us on what data to acquire as well as what data we should not collect, giving the study a focal point .
  • The development of a hypothesis improves objectivity since it enables the establishment of a focal point.
  • A hypothesis makes it possible for us to contribute to the development of the theory. Because of this, we are in a position to definitively determine what is true and what is untrue .

How will Hypothesis help in the Scientific Method?

  • The scientific method begins with observation and inquiry about the natural world when formulating research questions. Researchers can refine their observations and queries into specific, testable research questions with the aid of hypothesis. They provide an investigation with a focused starting point.
  • Hypothesis generate specific predictions regarding the expected outcomes of experiments or observations. These forecasts are founded on the researcher’s current knowledge of the subject. They elucidate what researchers anticipate observing if the hypothesis is true.
  • Hypothesis direct the design of experiments and data collection techniques. Researchers can use them to determine which variables to measure or manipulate, which data to obtain, and how to conduct systematic and controlled research.
  • Following the formulation of a hypothesis and the design of an experiment, researchers collect data through observation, measurement, or experimentation. The collected data is used to verify the hypothesis’s predictions.
  • Hypothesis establish the criteria for evaluating experiment results. The observed data are compared to the predictions generated by the hypothesis. This analysis helps determine whether empirical evidence supports or refutes the hypothesis.
  • The results of experiments or observations are used to derive conclusions regarding the hypothesis. If the data support the predictions, then the hypothesis is supported. If this is not the case, the hypothesis may be revised or rejected, leading to the formulation of new queries and hypothesis.
  • The scientific approach is iterative, resulting in new hypothesis and research issues from previous trials. This cycle of hypothesis generation, testing, and refining drives scientific progress.


Importance Of Hypothesis

  • Hypothesis are testable statements that enable scientists to determine if their predictions are accurate. This assessment is essential to the scientific method, which is based on empirical evidence.
  • Hypothesis serve as the foundation for designing experiments or data collection techniques. They can be used by researchers to develop protocols and procedures that will produce meaningful results.
  • Hypothesis hold scientists accountable for their assertions. They establish expectations for what the research should reveal and enable others to assess the validity of the findings.
  • Hypothesis aid in identifying the most important variables of a study. The variables can then be measured, manipulated, or analyzed to determine their relationships.
  • Hypothesis assist researchers in allocating their resources efficiently. They ensure that time, money, and effort are spent investigating specific concerns, as opposed to exploring random concepts.
  • Testing hypothesis contribute to the scientific body of knowledge. Whether or not a hypothesis is supported, the results contribute to our understanding of a phenomenon.
  • Hypothesis can result in the creation of theories. When supported by substantive evidence, hypothesis can serve as the foundation for larger theoretical frameworks that explain complex phenomena.
  • Beyond scientific research, hypothesis play a role in the solution of problems in a variety of domains. They enable professionals to make educated assumptions about the causes of problems and to devise solutions.

Research Hypotheses: Did you know that a hypothesis refers to an educated guess or prediction about the outcome of a research study?

It’s like a roadmap guiding researchers towards their destination of knowledge. Just like a compass points north, a well-crafted hypothesis points the way to valuable discoveries in the world of science and inquiry.

Choose the best answer. 

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Further Reading

  • RNA-DNA World Hypothesis
  • BYJU’S. (2023). Hypothesis. Retrieved 01 Septermber 2023, from https://byjus.com/physics/hypothesis/#sources-of-hypothesis
  • Collegedunia. (2023). Hypothesis. Retrieved 1 September 2023, from https://collegedunia.com/exams/hypothesis-science-articleid-7026#d
  • Hussain, D. J. (2022). Hypothesis. Retrieved 01 September 2023, from https://mmhapu.ac.in/doc/eContent/Management/JamesHusain/Research%20Hypothesis%20-Meaning,%20Nature%20&%20Importance-Characteristics%20of%20Good%20%20Hypothesis%20Sem2.pdf
  • Media, D. (2023). Hypothesis in the Scientific Method. Retrieved 01 September 2023, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-hypothesis-2795239#toc-hypotheses-examples
  • Rashid, M. H. A. (Apr 20, 2022). Research Methodology. Retrieved 01 September 2023, from https://limbd.org/hypothesis-definitions-functions-characteristics-types-errors-the-process-of-testing-a-hypothesis-hypotheses-in-qualitative-research/#:~:text=Functions%20of%20a%20Hypothesis%3A&text=Specifically%2C%20a%20hypothesis%20serves%20the,providing%20focus%20to%20the%20study.

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Last updated on September 8th, 2023

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Words have precise meanings in science. For example, "theory," "law," and "hypothesis" don't all mean the same thing. Outside of science, you might say something is "just a theory," meaning it's a supposition that may or may not be true. In science, however, a theory is an explanation that generally is accepted to be true. Here's a closer look at these important, commonly misused terms.

A hypothesis is an educated guess, based on observation. It's a prediction of cause and effect. Usually, a hypothesis can be supported or refuted through experimentation or more observation. A hypothesis can be disproven but not proven to be true.

Example: If you see no difference in the cleaning ability of various laundry detergents, you might hypothesize that cleaning effectiveness is not affected by which detergent you use. This hypothesis can be disproven if you observe a stain is removed by one detergent and not another. On the other hand, you cannot prove the hypothesis. Even if you never see a difference in the cleanliness of your clothes after trying 1,000 detergents, there might be one more you haven't tried that could be different.

Scientists often construct models to help explain complex concepts. These can be physical models like a model volcano or atom  or conceptual models like predictive weather algorithms. A model doesn't contain all the details of the real deal, but it should include observations known to be valid.

Example: The  Bohr model shows electrons orbiting the atomic nucleus, much the same way as the way planets revolve around the sun. In reality, the movement of electrons is complicated but the model makes it clear that protons and neutrons form a nucleus and electrons tend to move around outside the nucleus.

A scientific theory summarizes a hypothesis or group of hypotheses that have been supported with repeated testing. A theory is valid as long as there is no evidence to dispute it. Therefore, theories can be disproven. Basically, if evidence accumulates to support a hypothesis, then the hypothesis can become accepted as a good explanation of a phenomenon. One definition of a theory is to say that it's an accepted hypothesis.

Example: It is known that on June 30, 1908, in Tunguska, Siberia, there was an explosion equivalent to the detonation of about 15 million tons of TNT. Many hypotheses have been proposed for what caused the explosion. It was theorized that the explosion was caused by a natural extraterrestrial phenomenon , and was not caused by man. Is this theory a fact? No. The event is a recorded fact. Is this theory, generally accepted to be true, based on evidence to-date? Yes. Can this theory be shown to be false and be discarded? Yes.

A scientific law generalizes a body of observations. At the time it's made, no exceptions have been found to a law. Scientific laws explain things but they do not describe them. One way to tell a law and a theory apart is to ask if the description gives you the means to explain "why." The word "law" is used less and less in science, as many laws are only true under limited circumstances.

Example: Consider Newton's Law of Gravity . Newton could use this law to predict the behavior of a dropped object but he couldn't explain why it happened.

As you can see, there is no "proof" or absolute "truth" in science. The closest we get are facts, which are indisputable observations. Note, however, if you define proof as arriving at a logical conclusion, based on the evidence, then there is "proof" in science. Some work under the definition that to prove something implies it can never be wrong, which is different. If you're asked to define the terms hypothesis, theory, and law, keep in mind the definitions of proof and of these words can vary slightly depending on the scientific discipline. What's important is to realize they don't all mean the same thing and cannot be used interchangeably.

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The Definition of Biophysics: What Exactly is Biophysics?

  • First Online: 31 October 2020

Cite this chapter

hypothesis definition biomedical

  • Claudia Tanja Mierke 29  

Part of the book series: Biological and Medical Physics, Biomedical Engineering ((BIOMEDICAL))

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This chapter describes what kind of research is performed in biophysics and what major breakthroughs biophysics has brought. The big problem for the field of biology and life sciences is that we have too much information about all molecules and their signaling pathways. We are simply lost in all the information and cannot decipher the essential parts. Thus, we need to focus on the framework helping us to organize and categorize all those endless numbers of facts. Biologists and life scientists wonder why a physicist is often seen as a reductionist who wants to leave out all the details that distinguish cells from metals. The reason for the reduction is that the whole unified framework must finally be seen in the context of an overall picture. The reduction to the main characteristics stands in contrast to the diversity and abundance of the mechanisms and interaction pathways that provide a fruitful, but also enormous tension. Thus, future research will at the first glance combine these seemingly contradictory directions and, if necessary, switch back and forth between them in order to understand these living beings. There has been a tremendous development of several physical techniques suitable for the measuring of living biological matter, and there is an approach revealing what happens in the nano- and microenvironment of cells. Moreover, a lot of physical ideas and principles are behind the scientific cartoons and schematic drawings present in cell biology and molecular biology books, which may serve as suitable tests to confirm or reject these hypotheses. In general, the biological question of how living organisms can be highly ordered differs from the physical question of whether the flow of energy can evoke increased order. Basically, both scientists, the biologist and physicist, achieve the same thing, but have very different approaches to getting answers and reaching their goals. In detail, this chapter gives a brief overview of the field of biophysics and also mentions subareas. The main objective of this chapter is to develop an understanding of biological processes and mechanisms and to sensitize the reader to the great diversity observed in the study of living materials in biological processes that can be attained in all fields of biology.

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Mierke, C.T. (2020). The Definition of Biophysics: What Exactly is Biophysics?. In: Cellular Mechanics and Biophysics. Biological and Medical Physics, Biomedical Engineering. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-58532-7_1

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The Principles of Biomedical Scientific Writing: Title

Zahra bahadoran.

1 Nutrition and Endocrine Research Center, Research Institute for Endocrine Sciences, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Parvin Mirmiran

2 Department of Clinical Nutrition and Human Dietetics, National Nutrition and Food Technology Research Institute, Faculty of Nutrition Sciences and Food Technology, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Khosrow Kashfi

3 Department of Molecular, Cellular and Biomedical Sciences, Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, City University of New York School of Medicine, New York, United States

Asghar Ghasemi

4 Endocrine Physiology Research Center, Research Institute for Endocrine Sciences, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

The title of a paper is “like a hat on a head or the front door to a house” and its initial impression. Writing a good and effective title makes the paper more retrievable by search engines and maximizes its impact in the scientific community. The paper’s title presents what has been studied, how it has been done, and what are the major results. A well-written title is balanced for being informative and concise, as well as attractively conveying the main topic, highlighting the importance of the study. For writing a good title, it should be drafted correctly, accurately, carefully, and meticulously by the main study keywords. By removing extra and unspecific words, the final title should be unambiguous, memorable, captivating, and informative. Here, we provided an overview of the importance and function of the title as well as different types of titles in scientific medical writing. We also focused on the content and organization of the title of a hypothesis-testing paper. In addition, the features of a good title were discussed.

The title is the “single most important line of a publication” ( 1 ). Although the title is a very small part of a research paper, it plays an important role in connecting the writer with potential readers. It also determines whether the paper is read or not ( 2 ). The title of a paper acts as a billboard, a descriptor, an advertisement ( 3 ), or a trailer for the movie ( 4 ). For every person who reads the whole paper, about 500 people only read the title, indicating that the majority of the papers are read by title alone ( 5 ). The title can influence the first impression of the work during the pre-publication process that occurs in the peer-review, as well as the post-publication process, which affects both dissemination and citations ( 3 , 6 ). Therefore, writing an effective title is an important step in scientific writing.

A good title provides a reconciliation between being attractive and being informative ( 4 ); it means that the title should motivate the readers to read an article, give them a summary of the contents, and provide an overview of the topics and findings ( 7 ). A well-written title will help other researchers to find the paper more easily ( 8 ), whereas a poorly written one may make a paper difficult to be retrieved by search engines, discourage readers to go through the text, and reduce an article’s impact ( 9 ). There are examples where journals have withdrawn a published paper because of it having a wrong title ( 10 ), a misleading or an inaccurate title ( 11 , 12 ), or for misuse of words within the title ( 13 ).

Following our previous reports on how to write and construct an introduction ( 14 ), materials and methods ( 15 ), results ( 16 ), and discussion ( 17 ) as sections of a scientific paper, here, we provided an overview of the importance and function of the title. We also focused on different types of titles that are commonly used in scientific and biomedical writings, in particular highlighting the function, content, and organization of the title in a hypothesis-testing paper.

2. Functions of the Title

The title of a biomedical scientific paper has two main functions ( 18 , 19 ): (1) to present the main topic or the message of the paper (the answer to the question) and (2) to attract potential readers and evoke their interest to read the paper. In fact, the title tells the readers what the paper is all about ( 6 , 19 ). The title also provides some keywords for further search ( 19 ) and facilitates the retrieval of the paper from bibliographic databases as this is used by the abstracting and documentation services in order to classify and index the paper ( 20 ).

3. Content of the Title

The main elements of a title include intervention, end-point or outcome, study population, and its specific conditions, design, and setting, which refers to a situation or a place that study was conducted at ( 21 ). The main elements in a hypothesis-testing paper, are (1) the independent variable(s) (X), (2) dependent variable(s) (Y), and (3) the study subjects (i.e. animal, population) or materials (i.e. culture media, cell line, tissue) (Z).

If important, the experimental approach and the condition of the animals/subjects during the study can also be included in the title ( 18 ). The specific organism or the biological system studied (e.g. animals, bacteria, cell culture) must always be included in the title ( 3 , 18 ). In case of humans, they are often removed from the title ( 3 , 18 ). It means that in biomedical journals, it is assumed that the species studied is human unless otherwise stated ( 3 ) and no population in the title indicates that the population is humans ( 18 ). However, if a subpopulation of humans was studied (e.g. patients who have asthma), that should be included in the title ( 18 ). Indication of the study setting (e.g. community-based, home-based, school-based, hospital-based, rural or urban setting) in the title is only important if the results are not generalizable to other settings, or if the setting reflects the magnitude of the research ( 21 ).

In descriptive papers, where a new structure is described, an important element of the title is to name that structure and its key function ( 18 ). In method papers, the name of the method (apparatus or material), its purpose, and the population where the method is used for are key elements of the title ( 18 ). According to the journal’s style or where appropriate, the study design may also be stated ( 8 ). This is especially true for randomized clinical trials, cohort, case-control, and cross-sectional studies ( 4 ). What this does is to alert the readers regarding the level of the evidence in the paper ( 4 ). Stating the study design in the title, usually located after a colon or an Em dash, makes the title more complete ( 21 ). Stating what type the review is (narrative, systematic or quantitative systematic) may also be helpful, especially for quantitative systematic reviews (meta-analysis) where a high level of evidence is suggested ( 4 ).

4. Organization of the Title

4.1. descriptive (neutral) titles.

Descriptive titles describe the subject of the paper but do not reveal the main conclusions ( 22 ) and are usually recommended as the best form of titles ( 23 ). Most of these contain all the elements of the research work (e.g. study population, intervention, study outcome, comparison) ( 21 , 23 ). In a hypothesis-testing paper, a descriptive title traditionally states the topic of the paper using its three essential pieces of information (dependent variable, independent variable, study subject or material), the so-called X, Y, and Z ( 18 ); e.g. a common form of such titles are “effect of X on Y in Z” (e.g. Effect of broccoli sprouts on insulin resistance in type 2 diabetic patients: a randomized double-blind clinical trial ( 24 )) or “Y during X in Z” (e.g. change of maternal serum triglycerides during third trimester of pregnancy in obese women). Usually, Z comes at the end of the title ( 18 ). Where there is no independent variable (X), the title would be Y in Z (e.g. dynamics of the chest wall in preterm infants) ( 18 ). If the study has several independent or dependent variables where they cannot be summarized under the general categories, it is advisable to select the most important ones ( 18 ) since these are new findings and should be presented in the title ( 25 ).

4.2. Declarative Titles

Declarative titles present the main conclusions or the actual message of the study ( 26 , 27 ). The message can be stated in a phrase or in a sentence ( 18 ). When the message is expressed in a phrase, an adjective or a noun (based on the verb used in the question and answer) or a combination of both are placed at the beginning of the title before the dependent variable; e.g. “reduced metabolic rate during radio-frequency irradiation in rats”, in which the message is expressed as an adjective, reduced ( 18 ). When the message is expressed in a sentence, a verb in the present tense is used; e.g. continuous positive airway pressure impairs renal function in anesthetized newborn goats ( 18 ). Using a sentence is stronger than using a phrase (because verbs convey an action more powerful than adjectives and nouns); therefore, it is used only when solid evidence supports a clear message ( 18 ). Some believe that using a sentence as a title overemphasize a conclusion and is best to be avoided ( 4 ).

In hypothesis-testing papers, the message of the paper can be stated in the title, where the message is strong and clear, and is supported by strong and solid evidence ( 18 , 23 ). Authors also need to be ensured that the title is true and is supported by the rest of the paper ( 28 ). When the title is a complete sentence, it conveys the impression that the study has reached a definite conclusion ( 19 ). e.g. “endothelium-derived relaxing factor produced and released from artery and vein is nitric oxide” ( 29 ).

Some believe that declarative titles would help authors to select a more appropriate paper during their search ( 27 ). For some types of papers such as commentaries, journals (e.g. obstetrics and gynecology) may push the authors to write a declarative title regarding the commentary’s main argument(s). Declarative titles give the impression that the findings of the study have general validity, which rarely is the case ( 26 ). Editors are, therefore, more cautious in accepting declarative titles due to its possible impact on public health ( 22 ) and some journals do not accept declarative titles (e.g. New England Journal of Medicine) ( 26 ). In addition, in case of choosing a declarative title, authors need to ask themselves will the title kill the curiosity? Will the readers lose motivation and interest to read the full article? ( 23 ).

Generally, the present tense in the title emphasizes the general validity of the results whereas the past tense indicates that the results are not established knowledge yet. To state results of a single investigation past tense and for results of a systematic review present tense should be used ( 27 ).

4.3. Interrogative Titles

To make a title more attractive, an interrogative form, which phrases the subject of the paper in the form of a question, can be used ( 30 ). However, in hypothesis-testing papers, interrogative titles are not recommended ( 31 ), because the reader would appreciate being told the answer from the beginning ( 30 ). An interrogative title may be appropriate for a review article, where the controversial issues are being discussed in response to the study question ( 30 ); e.g. are shorter article titles more attractive for citations? Cross-sectional study of 22 scientific journals ( 32 ). Interrogative titles in general lead to more paper down-loads but may result in fewer citations ( 22 ).

4.4. Compound Titles

Compound titles (or hanging titles) contain the main title and a subtitle ( 23 ) that are separated by a colon (:) ( 18 ). Compound titles can be started with a short question, a subject sentence, or a noun phrase, followed by a colon and a declarative sentence or a question ( 22 ). These types of titles are used to provide additional relevant information (e.g. about the study design, geographic or temporal scope of the research) or to add substance to a provocative area ( 23 ); e.g. developmental origins of type 2 diabetes: focus on epigenetics ( 33 ). They are useful for complex studies ( 19 ) and series papers ( 18 ). Using subtitles is not recommended except for putting an important word first ( 18 ). Papers with subtitles seem to be more attractive and are less likely to be rejected ( 34 ). In a compound title, the main part (main title) should be standalone ( 4 ).

4.5. Other Types of Title

Other styles, less commonly used to organize the title, are “indicating the direction of the author’s opinion”, “emphasizing the methodology used in the research”, “suggesting guidelines”, or “making a comparison” ( 35 ). To get more attention, the use of “effective opening”, “alliteration”, “irony”, “puns”, “humor” or “mystifying” ( 35 ) may also be used. However, the latter styles do help the paper grab readers’ attention, the authors need to ensure they will be understood and appreciated by all readers and are culturally appropriate ( 23 ). One example of referring to a parable in the title is: challenges for measuring oxytocin: the blind men and the elephant? ( 36 ), in which the subtitle refers to the parable of the 6 blind men and the elephant.

5. The Procedure of Writing an Effective Title

Although it is the first section of a paper that is seen ( 3 , 6 , 19 ), title is drawn from other sections of paper ( 3 ) and the final title is usually written as the last part ( 19 ). Good titles are created with care and craft ( 4 ). Writing a good title needs a back-and-forth process by continuous going back to the text with a sharper focus on what the paper is trying to say ( 35 ).

As shown in Figure 1 , a stepwise process is suggested to be followed to draft a title. What the authors need to do in the first step is to consider the manuscript entirely and then try to describe the content of the paper using essential keywords and phrases. Then, they need to make a sentence by the selected keywords and then remove redundant and nonspecific words/adjectives ( 20 ). The keywords used in the title should be the same as that used in the question and answer in the introduction, discussion, and abstract ( 18 ). The initial title must then be reviewed, refined and finally checked for having features of an effective final title. The title should not be hastily finalized; making a consultation with colleagues to get their opinion and possible suggestions can help improve the title ( 23 ). The authors are highly recommended to adhere to the style of the journal that they are submitting to e.g. word count, other instructions such as acceptable types of title (declarative and interrogative ones are unacceptable by some), use of capital letters, hyphens, colon, etc.

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6. Features of a Suitable Title

In addition to highlighting the subject matter (be informative), the title of the paper should be eye-catching (be attractive) ( 25 , 37 ). The most important concept should be placed at or near the beginning of the title (where it most readily catches the reader’s eye) ( 25 ). Table 1 describes the features of a good title. In brief, a well-written title should be attractive and engaging ( 4 , 6 , 26 ), comprehensive ( 8 , 37 ), accurate ( 18 ), sufficiently descriptive ( 37 ), complete ( 18 ), informative ( 3 , 4 , 6 , 8 ), and specific ( 4 , 18 , 37 ) as well as be concise ( 3 , 4 , 6 , 8 , 18 , 26 , 37 ), clear (unambiguous) ( 3 , 18 ) and begins with an important term ( 3 , 18 ). The title should not be too general ( 19 , 31 ) or too-detailed ( 31 ), be misleading or unrepresentative ( 26 ), omit major elements ( 19 ), or include unnecessary details ( 19 ).

7. Length of the Title

Although longer titles may provide more information regarding the content, they reduce the interest generated ( 39 ). A short title is easier to understand and can attract a wider readership and increase the influence of the paper ( 40 ). Therefore, the authors are advised to make the title as short as possible without sacrificing accuracy, completeness, specificity, and clarity ( 18 ). High-impact journals usually restrict the length of their papers’ titles ( 40 ).

Try to keep your title shorter than 100 characters (i.e. letters and punctuation marks), including spaces (120 characters are considered the upper limit) ( 18 ). As the rule of thumb, 10 - 12 words may be the ideal length of a paper ( 41 ) and the title should not be more than 12 words ( 31 ).

8. Word Choice in the Title

In addition to being relevant to the target audience ( 3 ), every word (excluding articles e.g. the, a, an, and prepositions e.g. to, about, on) used in the title should add significance ( 28 ). Words in the title need to be checked by Medical Subjects Headings (MeSH) ( 31 ). Using study keywords to formulate a title is highly recommended. Using the most important keywords in the title is essential for appropriate indexing purposes and for retrieval by search engines and available databases ( 38 ). Indexing services (e.g. PubMed) and search engines (e.g. Google) use keywords and terms in the title ( 3 , 6 ). Titles should not start with a numeral, or expressions like “a study of”, “a contribution to”, “investigations on” or “some interesting” ( 20 ). “Influence of” does not evoke much curiosity and if possible should be avoided ( 25 ).

Generally, the use of neutral words (e.g. inquiry, analysis, evaluation, assessment, etc.), that give no information to the readers, is not recommended ( 28 ). However, in some cases, these words may be necessary to inform the scope, intent, or type of a study ( 42 ). Although the use of catchy phrases or non-specific language is not recommended in academic writing, they can be used within the context of the study ( 42 ).

Adjectives (e.g. increased) that modify quantitative words (e.g. metabolic rate) are different from those (e.g. improved) that modify qualitative words (e.g. performance) ( 18 ). Some adjectives such as “novel” or “innovative” need to be replaced by more explicit adjectives to explain to the readers what makes the study novel ( 28 ); e.g. “A noninvasive method of predicting pulmonary-capillary wedge pressure” ( 43 ) or “An ultrasound method for safe and rapid central venous access” ( 44 ). If possible, replace long words with short ones ( 26 ). Try to avoid gerunds (verb forms that end in -ing) in the title as the actor is obscured ( 31 ). Avoid using generic terms such as animal, bacteria, or antibiotic as key terms ( 3 ).

Abbreviations confuse readers and usually are not used by indexing services ( 3 ). In some situations, e.g. long or technical terms in scientific writings, the use of abbreviations can be useful ( 21 ). Using abbreviations that appear as word entries in Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary ( 21 ), are better known than their words (e.g. DNA, AIDS, and FDA) ( 3 , 18 ), or abbreviations for chemicals (e.g. N 2 O 5 ), are acceptable in the title ( 18 ).

9. Word Order in the Title

Paying attention to syntax (word order) in the title is important because it can influence the reader’s interest in the paper ( 3 ). Generally, words at the beginning of the title make the most impact ( 20 ). Put an important word (e.g. independent or dependent variables) first in the title to attract readers ( 3 , 18 , 25 , 26 ). What you want to be emphasized as the primary subject matter i.e. the key concept of the paper needs to appear first and near the beginning of the title ( 3 , 25 ). Because search engines such as Google, typically show only the first 6 - 7 words of a title, most associated terms should, therefore, appear earlier ( 3 ). Using a subtitle (to state-specific topic) following the main title (to state general topic) is a technique for putting an important word or phrase first in the title ( 18 ); e.g. “Holistic review: shaping the medical profession one applicant at a time” ( 45 ) or “Medical school admissions: applicant projections revisited” ( 46 ).

10. Use of Preposition in the Title

A preposition is a word or a group of words used before a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, time, place, location, spatial relationships, or to introduce an object. Correct use of prepositions in the title makes it more clear and helps the reader to understand how the title elements are related to each other ( 28 ). Typical prepositions used in the title, are by (to indicate how something is done), for (referring to a purpose), from (referring to the origin of something), in (referring to a location), of (belonging to or regrading) ( 28 ).

11. Running Title

To identify the articles in a journal, short phrases called running titles (running heads) appear at the top or bottom of every page or every other page ( 6 , 18 ). Running titles are short versions of the title ( 6 , 18 ) and help readers to keep track of the article throughout its printed pages ( 21 ). As running titles mostly cannot be longer than 50 characters (including the spaces), authors are recommended to use standard abbreviations and omit the study design ( 21 ). In hypothesis-testing papers, the running title usually names independent and dependent variables ( 18 ). The form “X and Y”, which is unspecific for the title can be used for the running title ( 18 ).

12. Title and Paper Citation

A well-organized title is positively associated with paper citation ( 47 ). Some studies have addressed how the feature and structure of a title can affect pre- and post-publication manuscript success ( 9 ). Association of title’s length and citation of the paper has remained inconclusive ( 47 , 48 ), however, papers with shorter titles ( 40 ) especially when presenting study conclusion ( 49 ) receive more citations ( 40 ). Analysis of published papers in the Lancet journal showed that titles with two components separated by a colon were significantly more common in the well-cited papers ( 47 ). Titles emphasizing broader conceptual or comparative issues get more attention than those being more specific (e.g. use of particular genus or species by their taxonomic name in the title) ( 9 ). Some factors such as referring to a specific country or geographical region may also lead to poor citation of the paper ( 47 , 49 ). Other factors such as punctuations and use of acronyms can also affect the citation rate of a paper ( 47 ). Use of “colon”, “hyphen” and “comma” was most frequent whereas “semi-colon”, “dash” and “single quotation marks” were least frequent punctuation marks in top-cited papers ( 50 ).

13. Conclusions

The essence of research is reflected in its title, which acts as a “signpost” for the main topic of the paper ( 31 ). In addition to presenting the message of the paper, the title should evoke interest in reading the paper. Appropriate types of a title (e.g. descriptive, declarative, interrogative) should be selected by the authors and in all cases, the title should be accurate, unambiguous, interesting, concise, precise, unique, and should not be misleading. “The Title” should present the substance of the work in a clear way.

Authors' Contribution: Study concept and design: Zahra Bahadoran and Asghar Ghasemi; drafting of the manuscript: Zahra Bahadoran, Parvin Mirmiran, and Asghar Ghasemi; critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Khosrow Kashfi and Parvin Mirmiran.

Conflict of Interests: The authors have no conflict of interest.

Funding/Support: This study was supported by the Research Institute for Endocrine Sciences, Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences.


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