What Makes a Good PhD Title?

The title of your PhD will be the first thing that the reader sees, whether on your proposal or your finished thesis. While it is far from the most important concern, a good title can nevertheless play a useful role in achieving success and avoiding failure. In this article I will discuss important things to remember when crafting a title.

First, and foremost, your title must reflect the content of the proposal and thesis. This is essentially a matter of common sense and is only likely to be an issue if you alter the focus or approach of your doctoral research without amending your title. For example if you entitle your thesis A Comparative Analysis of the Law of X and then decide to focus more specifically on a single jurisdiction, then you must remember to change your title accordingly.

Second, make sure your title gives the reader a helpful representation of your thesis. Abstract titles, and obscure references to witty quotes, may be clever, but they fail to convey the essential information, which is the focus of your PhD.  If you do want to use a clever or witty title then make use of the device of a subtitle.

Third, try to keep your title short and tightly written. It is a title and not an abstract.

In summary, a good title should be: relevant, explanatory, and succinct. Being clever or witty can be a nice touch, but is not necessary and you should never sacrifice any of the essential features.

I will finish with an example using two of Richard Dawkins’ books. The Blind Watchmaker has clever use of  imagery, but would not make a good PhD title because the content is obscure and unclear. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution is a  much better PhD title because it is succinct, explanatory (the subtitle explains the content) and witty.