Seminar on Special Topics in Applied Linguistics


Hi everyone! I’m just so happy that our topic got a two thumbs up from our professor  Dr. Milagros Villas. The topic is all about research titles in applied linguistics. The author sought to answer what are the differences in the titles of research articles and theses in applied linguistics. The study was conducted somewhere in Iran.

I find the toipic intriguing for as a novice researcher I have a lot of question on how to formulate a somewhat professional like title. Also I wanted to know what’s the use of colon and the like in a title. Anyway, for further information regarding the study, read the research below. I’m sure you’ll also find this study useful.

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Writing titles in applied linguistics:

A comparative study of theses and research articles

Alireza Jalilifar

Shahid Chamran University of Ahvaz

Abstract

Title is the proof of identity of any academic work without which the work would hardly find

space in the intended discourse community. Despite studies on their nature, the generic characteristics

of titles have not been adequately considered. Realizing the need for more empirical investigation,

this study focused on the titles of theses and articles in Applied Linguistics. Assuming that titles of

theses and articles have little in common as far as their communicative purposes are concerned, the

study took into account as many as 1871 thesis and article titles. The titles were categorized according

to their varying structural constructions and informativeness. The thesis titles appeared to be more

informative while the article titles demonstrated greater variation in their structures. The marked

differences in writing titles and the dearth of accepted norms for title writing suggest provision of

more comprehensive guidelines would be of benefit to researchers.

Keywords: thesis; research article; title; informativeness; scope

1. Introduction

Title, as a message system designed to organize perceptions and create structures

of meaning, has attracted the interest of many researchers. Investigations into titles are

important in that a title is the first point that captures the reader’s eye, the point from

which he may decide whether a text is worth reading or not. This makes title writing a

crucial step in documenting research. Despite their succinctness, titles are “serious

stuff” (Swales, 1990, p. 224). They intrigue the reader and lure him into reading the

Taiwan International ESP Journal, Vol. 2: 1, 29-54, 2010

30

article itself (Haggan, 2004, p. 298).

If only attractiveness mattered in title formation, it would be of little help to the

readers, because it would not contain any clue to what the article is about. Furthermore,

if a title is not informative, it cannot be indexed in the proper databases (Haggan, 2004).

An appropriate title is assumed to have three requirements. To fulfill its functions, a title

should indicate the scope of the research, introduce the topic of the research, and be

self-explanatory (Swales & Feak, 1994, p. 205). These three aspects contribute to

the informativeness of a title. Having these requirements, a title might attract the

right audience; otherwise, it loses its effectiveness and hence its addressees. Lester

(1993, p. 138) mentions that a clearly expressed title is like a good thesis sentence that

can guide one’s writing and keep the researcher on course. He presents a number of

strategies for writing a title, all of which in one way or another indicate the topic of the

research, as well as the information through which the reader can decide on the

usefulness and relevance of the research article (RA) to his own area of interest.

A title should also be as brief and as short as possible. Economy and conciseness

are the features of a title to which some editors devote a section in their journals, in

which contributors are provided with some general notes and guidelines regarding the

title and its length (Haggan, 2004; Soler, 2007; Yakhontova, 2002).

Title is the proof of identity of any academic piece of work without which it would

find no space in the intended discourse community. In the last three decades, there has

been a growing interest in titles and their characteristics in different genres, for example,

dissertations (Dudley-Evans, 1984), research articles (Goodman, 2000; Haggan, 2004;

Haig, 2004; Soler, 2007; Wang & Bai, 2007), review papers (Soler, 2007), conference

presentation abstracts (Yakhontova, 2002), and lectures (Gelbes, 2007).

Different publications have distinct writing conventions (determined by different

academic settings, authors, and audiences) and peer review processes. For example,

article writers should follow the guidelines and strategies that are set forth by the journals

as the essential prerequisite for publishing their articles, whereas thesis titles are subject

to review only by supervisors and referees of the theses. Titles in these genres, therefore,

despite their common features, echo different purposes and exhibit divergent characteristics.

Alireza Jalilifar

31

The problem of composing a title may be worse for graduate students because there are

few guidelines for writing a thesis title, and so students might generalize the suggestions

for RA titles to writing titles for their theses. Moreover, considering the huge task of

writing a thesis, graduate students might take writing a title for granted.

Contemporary studies on title writing have focused, especially, on article titles or

conference presentation titles, and they have made generous contributions to these two

(Goodman, Thacker, and Siegel, 2001; Yakhontova, 2002; Haig, 2004; Haggan, 2004;

Soler, 2007; Wang & Bai, 2007; Gelbes, 2007). These studies have, in general, pointed

to the generic peculiarity of titles, their syntactic structure, which is at the service of

economy or conciseness, and the authors’ construction of their ethos out of the choices

that are made available to them by the institutional context that they are attached to.

However, despite the attention given to culminating genres of graduate students

(Allison, Cooley, Lewkowicz,& Nunan, 1998; Belcher, 1994; Belcher &Hirvela, 2005;

Bitchener & Basturkmen, 2006; Bunton, 2005; Connor, & Mauranen, 1999; Dudley-

Evans, 1984; Kwan, 2006; Paltridge, 1997; Samraj & Monk, 2008; Shaw, 1991), the

study of the titles of theses does not share the same privilege. This is especially evident

in Applied Linguistics, and thus more empirical investigation seems to be needed in this

area. As a matter of fact, the requirements of a good article title suggested by Swales

and Feak (1994, p. 205), and the title writing strategies set forth by Lester (1993) may

also be applied to thesis titles. Though writing a thesis title may appear a narrow topic,

Dudley-Evans (1984) believes in a prescriptive approach to teaching titles to nonnative

speakers of English, by examining in depth the various aspects of the genre and drawing

conclusions.

Except for the work done by Dudley-Evans (1984) on writing dissertation titles, it

seems that no substantial work has considered the role of titles in graduate student theses.

The titles in Dudley-Evans’ (1984) program were chosen from the fields of Plant

Biology, Highway Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Electrical and Civil Engineering.

Grammatical analysis of the titles made evident that a nominal group with a head and a

qualifying group were the usual patterns in title formation.

Dudley-Evans, in addition, explains the step by step processes of forming

TIESPJ, Vol. 2: 1, 2010

32

Master’s thesis titles that take place in a team consisting of a student, a language teacher,

and a subject lecturer. Swales (1990, p. 222) agrees with this step by step process of

title writing and points to the overarching goal of repairing

 

 

unfortunate titles or

reworking

them. In the team work, the above-mentioned title analysis was an important

means by which the students repaired the titles of their submitted projects, taking up

suggestions on title length, informativeness, generality, and the choice of words.

Previous studies have shown conflicting views as to what makes a title an effective

one. Almost all of these studies dealt with the inter-disciplinary variations of title

formation and neglected the generic differences of titles within a discipline. This study

aims to address a less charted area

 

 

titles in theses and articles in Applied Linguistics.

I will inspect the structural configurations commonly found in each genre to see if they

meet the important requirements of informativeness. I hope that the study will help

students and those who wish to disseminate the findings of their own research in the

leading international journals, and offer them clues on effective title writing in academic

settings. The following questions, targeting informativeness and structural configuration,

are thus posed in this study:

1. Is structural configuration a distinctive feature between thesis and RA titles in

Applied Linguistics?

2. Are thesis titles more informative and self explanatory than RA titles in Applied

Linguistics?

2. Methodology

2.1 Instrument

Taking into account the value of coding to “reduce a complex, messy, context-laden

and quantification resistant reality to a matrix of numbers” (Orwin, 1994, p. 140), I coded

the titles based on an amalgamation of syntactical units (e.g., phrases, sentences, or

compound constructions) earlier deployed by Haggan (2004), Soler (2007), and

Alireza Jalilifar

33

Yakhontova (2002). The choice of syntactic analysis as the point of departure for title

investigation was motivated by the fact that titles are the only part of articles that are,

physically and linguistically, disjunct from the context, and this makes studying the

contextual functions of titles essential.

Semantically, the titles were analyzed based on their informativeness. General

classifying words describing actions (e.g.,

 

 

investigating, study, analysis, etc. ), indicating

results of the study (e.g., effect, impact, problems, etc.), or pointing to different aspects

of a study (e.g.,area, scope, topic, or method) are usually used to improve the

informativeness of titles. To preclude any problem of interpretation, these aspects were

defined based on current views in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) as follows:

1) Area:Mackey and Gass (2005) classify SLA research into different areas, namely,

formal models, processing-based models, interaction-based models, strategies and

cognitive processes, and sociolinguistic-based models, which might be explicitly

mentioned in an RA title.

2) Scope: The scope of Applied Linguistics has different domains such as

Language Teaching, Psycholinguistics, Language Learning, and Sociolinguistics that

are influenced by linguistic or learning theories, as well as by cultural or political issues

(Kaplan, 1980). Limitations are often imposed on the scope of the research in a title.

Sometimes, the title covers what takes place in the classroom and, at times, it includes

what happens in natural, untutored environments (Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991).

3) Topic: The main focus of a research, the topic, should be narrow enough to be

dealt with in one particular study.

4) Method: The method is the way the research questions are investigated and the

hypotheses are tested. Historical, descriptive, and experimental methods are the three

major classes of research methods (Farhady, 1996).

2.2 Materials and Procedure

The dataset for this study comprised 997 article titles from the electronic versions

of six Applied Linguistics journals, namely,

 Applied Linguistics (AL), English for

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34

Academic Purposes (EAP) , English for Specific Purposes (ESP), English Language Teaching (ELT)

, International Journal of Applied Linguistics (IAL), and System (SYS)

across a span of eight years (2002-2009). These are considered the most popular and well-grounded journals, indexed in various journals and libraries and read by many researchers.

The second set of data included 874 MA and PhD thesis titles (between 2002 and (2009) in the same discipline from local Iranian universities (Islamic Azad University:Ahvaz Science and Research Branch (SRCA), Tehran Science and Research Branch

(SRCT), Tarbiat Modares University (TMU), University of Yazd (UY), University ofShiraz (US), University of Isfahan (UI), Al Zahra University (AZU), Shahid Beheshti University (SBU), and Shahid Chamran University (SCU)).

These universities are prestigious and accept a good number of MA and PhD candidates for postgraduate studies. Therefore, the theses written in these universities can be regarded as representative of theses with the above average quality written across the country. The choice of the most recent data for this study was to find the tendencies of the researchers for the current structures in title formulation in both genres.

The study aimed to provide quantitative and qualitative analyses of the titles in terms

of length, structural configurations, and informativeness. To guarantee the reliability of

analysis, 200 titles were randomly chosen and they were all analyzed quantitatively and

qualitatively by the researcher and an experienced applied linguist separately.

Intercoder reliability (0.98) ensured uniformity in the coding procedure and the rest of

the corpus was analyzed by the researcher himself. The final stage was the comparison

made between thesis and article titles to arrive at general trends in title formulation in

the two genres in focus.

Alireza Jalilifar

35

3. Results

3.1 Quantitative Analysis

The results of the word count are presented in Table 1, which provides basic

statistics for all the RAs and theses investigated. Hyphenated words were counted as a

single word by the computer. As can be inferred from the Table, in all instances, the

thesis titles were longer than the article titles. The average title length in the articles

(10.60) was closer to Haggan’s finding (9.9), as compared to Soler’s title length (7.98),

while the average length of the thesis titles was 14.09. The titles in the journal

 

 

ELT had

the shortest average length. On the other hand, the shortest average length in the thesis

titles in Tehran Science and Research Branch (12.75) was greater than the average

length of the titles in the journal

 

 

ESP, which used longer average titles than journals.

The results of

 

 

t-test (t = 4.92; df = 13; tcrit = 2.160; P = .000) suggested a significant

difference between the titles in both groups.

Table 1

 

 

Basic statistics of journals and universities

Number

of issues

Number

of Titles

Number

of Words

Shortest

Title

Longest

Title

Mean

Journals

AL

EAP

ESP

ELT

IAL

SYS

29

28

30

29

20

29

156

139

160

198

98

246

1712

1590

1954

1441

1053

2825

2

3

4

2

4

2

26

29

23

15

24

24

10.97

11.43

12.21

7.27

10.74

11.48

Total 164 997 10575 2 29 10.60

Universities

UY

US

SRCA

SRCT

SCU

TMU

SBU

AZU

UI

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

28

70

83

252

23

133

27

64

194

400

919

1229

3215

337

1831

399

1088

2900

8

5

5

3

7

5

6

9

4

21

27

26

30

23

26

28

37

30

14.28

13.12

14.80

12.75

14.65

13.76

14.77

17.00

14.94

Total – 874 12318 3 37 14.09

TIESPJ, Vol. 2: 1, 2010

36

As seen in Table 2, the authors of the articles in Applied Linguistics tend to use

compound constructions far more than any other grammatical construction. More than

half of the structures in the article titles were compound constructions consisting of

different syntactic units while only about one fifth of the thesis titles incorporated this

structure.

Table 2

 

 

Structural constructions in thesis and article titles

Structures

Article titles Thesis titles

f (%) f (%) X

 

 

2 P

Noun Phrase

Verb Phrase

Prepositional Phrase

Sentence

Compound Structure

353

92

12

10

530

(35.40)

(9.22)

(1.20)

(1.00)

(53.15)

622

26

41

0*

185

(71.16)

(2.97)

(4.69)

(0)

(21.16)

74.216

36.915

15.868

7.364

66.469

0.000

0.000

0.000

0.007

0.000

Critical value = 3.84

*Cell counts increased from 0 to 1 to allow for chi-square test.

f = Frequency

The occurrence of compound construction in the article titles was contrary to

Haggan’s (2004) and Soler’s (2007) findings, in which about one third of the

Linguistics titles in their data followed this structure. The

 

 

chi-square result showed a

significant difference between the two groups of titles in all constructions. The highest

chi-square

result was attributed to compound constructions indicating that this structure

was a distinctive feature of the article titles. In contrast, the thesis writers showed more

tendencies toward the use of noun phrases (NP), which confirms Dudley-Evans’s

(1984) finding. Although NP was the second most frequent construction in the article

titles, its occurrence in about half the thesis titles made NP a distinctive feature, contrary

to Haggan’s (2004) finding where phrases were shown to have a greater contribution to

the formulation of article titles.

Other structures were rather variously realized in both groups of titles, with occurrence

of less than 10 percent. For instance, verb phrases (VP) in the article titles (9.22%) were

over three times the corresponding number in the thesis titles (2.97%), contrary to the

generalization made by Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad, and Finegan (2000) that VP

Alireza Jalilifar

37

is the most frequent structure in academic writing. This view may hold true in academic

writing except for titles, in some if not all disciplines. It seems that, at least, Applied

Linguistics has to be excluded from this generalization. Prepositional phrases (PP) were

also occasionally used as the initiating phrase in the titles. The absence of single

sentence constructions (SEN) in the thesis titles and its few (1%) occurrences in the

article titles confirm Haggan’s (2004) finding regarding the Linguistics titles, but it

contradicts the generalization made by Berkenkotter and Huckin (1995), who believe in

the growing tendency toward the use of full sentence titles in all disciplines.

The dominant compound construction was NP/NP followed by VP/NP in both

datasets. Though several structures were entirely absent from the thesis titles, a closer

look at Table 3 reveals a greater diversity involved in the grammatical structure of the

article titles. For instance, the structural configurations such as NP/VP, SEN/NP,

NP/SEN, and VP/VP made important contributions (more than 12 % overall) to the

distribution of titles.

Another criterion in the analysis of the titles was informativeness. The distribution

of these aspects in the thesis and article titles is summarized in Table 4 which makes it

clear that different informativeness aspects of the research are realized more explicitly

in the thesis titles than the article titles.

Both groups of titles tend to set forth the topic and scope more than other aspects,

a point that researchers recommend as the prerequisites for an acceptable title (Goodman,

Thacker, & Siegel, 2001; Lester, 1993; Swales, 1990; Swales & Feak, 1994; Zeiger,

1991). The results of

 

 

chi-square confirmed the significance of the differences in relation

to all aspects of informativeness save for

 

 

method and action. Analysis of the data

revealed more informativeness associated with the thesis titles, which indicated that the

thesis titles incorporate more elements that reflect on various aspects of a study.

Table 5 also summarizes the overall

 

 

chi-square results of informativeness, suggesting

a statistically meaningful difference between the two datasets.

TIESPJ, Vol. 2: 1, 2010

38

 

 

Alireza Jalilifar

Table 3

 

 

Structural constructions of compound titles

Compound titles

Article titles Thesis titles

f (%) f (%)

NP/NP

NP/VP

NP/PP

NP/SEN

NP/CLAU

262

38

11

29

-

(26.27)

(3.81)

(1.10)

(2.90)

(-)

143

9

-

2

2

(16.36)

(1.02)

(-)

(0.22)

(0.22)

VP/NP

VP/VP

VP/PP

VP/SEN

VP/CLAU

85

19

3

8

2

(8.52)

(1.90)

(0.30)

(0.80)

(0.20)

22

3

-

-

-

(2.51)

(0.34)

(-)

(-)

(-)

PP/NP

PP/VP

PP/PP

PP/SEN

13

4

2

1

(1.30)

(0.40)

(0.20)

(0.10)

3

-

-

-

(0.34)

(-)

(-)

(-)

SEN/NP

SEN/VP

SEN/PP

36

9

1

(3.61)

(0.90)

(0.10)

1

-

-

(0.11)

(-)

(-)

CLAU/NP 7 (0.70) – (-)

Table 4

 

 

Research aspects of informativeness in thesis and article titles

Aspects

Article titles Thesis titles

f (%) f (%) X

 

 

2 P

Topic

Scope

Area

Method

Result

Action

986

714

147

80

145

263

(98.89)

(71.61)

(14.74)

(8.02)

(14.54)

(26.37)

874

820

195

97

475

273

(100.00)

(93.82)

(22.31)

(11.09)

(54.23)

(31.23)

6.744

7.325

6.737

1.633

 

 

ns

175.645

0.187

 

 

ns

0.009

0.007

0.009

0.201

0.000

0.666

P < 0.05

Critical value = 3.84

ns Based on the defined critical value the chi-square amounts are not significant.

f = Frequency

Table 5

 

 

Chi-square results of informativeness in thesis and article titles

X

 

 

2 df P

Informativeness 31.407 1 0.000

P < 0.05

Critical value = 3.84

39

3.2 Qualitative analysis

The first two examples that follow represent the longest and shortest titles in theses

and the next two examples display the article titles:

1. “The Writing of This Thesis Was a Process That I Could Not Explore with the

Positivistic Detachment of the Classical Sociologist”: Self and Structure in

 

 

New

Humanities

Research Theses (EAP)

2. Bidirectional Transfer (AL)

3. The Effect of Four Different Modes of Presentation (Text-definition Alone,

Text-definition with Still-pictures, Text-definition with Instructional Video Clips, and

Text-definition with the Combination of Still-pictures and Instructional Video Clips) on

L2 Vocabulary Acquisition of EFL Learners ( AZU)

4. The Best-selling Translations (SRCT)

Title (1), the longest article title of the data, is a compound construction consisting of a

quotation which is likely to be a motivator followed by a noun phrase presenting the

topic (Self and Structure), scope (New Humanities), and the corpus (Research Theses). Title

(2), one of the shortest article titles, is an under-informative one, in that, like most short

titles, it is not self-explanatory and offers only the topic, so flouting the maxim of

quantity (Grice, 1975).

Title (3) is the longest thesis title including an NP with an embedded parenthetical

explanation which is apparently added to make it more self-explanatory but has made it

over-informative, a disadvantage in a title. Unlike the longest article title, the longest

thesis title contains repeated words. On the other hand, title (4), the shortest thesis title,

is again under-informative in that it provides the reader with no useful details about the

content. A vast array of structures was observed in the titles through which facts and

ideas were modified by different syntactic units. Below, an explanation of each structure

is presented.

3.2.1 Sentence titles

In my data, a less preferred structure was the single sentence construction. As

illustrated in the following examples, a few article titles (e.g., title 5) were statements

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40

indicating the general findings of the study while several others were Wh or Yes/No

questions in abridged or full forms (titles 6-8) dealing with the research focus. These

titles, despite their varying structures, imply that the contents of the papers contain

reasons for the problems posed in the titles by the use of “

 

 

Whatfor? ” in title (6),

“Does

 

 

?” in title (7), and “or?” in title (8), whose answers are surely not a simple

Yes or No.

5. Transfer of Reading Comprehension Skills to L2 Is Linked toMental Representations of

Text and to L2 Working Memory. (AL)

6. What Do We Want EAP Teaching Materials for? (EAP)

7. Does Instruction Work for Learning Pragmatics in the EFL Context? (SYS)

8. EAP or TEAP? (EAP)

All sentence titles were stated in the present tense which “emphasizes the note of

confident optimism being projected by the writer that what he is reporting stands true

for all time or is not simply a one-off occurrence” (Haggan, 2004, p. 297). Few instances

of reporting the results in the article titles confirmed Haggan’s finding, implying that

results are to be discussed only in the text of the article itself. Interestingly, no thesis

titles were cast in this way.

3.2.2 Phrase titles

Phrases were predominantly realized in the thesis titles; however, their occurrence

as the second most frequent structure in the article titles cannot be neglected. Researchers

(e.g., Biber

 

 

et al, 2000; Leech, 2000) believe that reduced structures are more common

in speech than written grammar, but in titles, they are the most frequent ones (Haggan,

2004).

3.2.2.1 Noun phrase titles:

The ability to compact information in an economical

way through various pre- and post-modifiers (Wang & Bai, 2007) makes NP more

informative and explanatory than other structures (Yakhontova, 2002), and a popular

one in titles of theses and articles. In line with the findings ofWang and Bai (2007), the

NP titles included uni-head, bi-head, and multi-head constructions. Past and present

participles, prepositional phrases, infinitives, and clauses are used as the postmodifiers

Alireza Jalilifar

41

of the NPs, as in the article title (9) where “that clause” offers the topic and scope of the

research.

9. Factors That Lead Some Students to Continue the Study of Foreign Language Past the

Usual Two Years in High School (SYS)

The titles with bi-head nominal groups consisting of two NPs connected by

 

 

and,

or

, and vs.were also popular (10). This title is modified by an apposition which capitalizes

on the novelty of the investigation (Yakhontova, 2002, p. 86). NPs were also widely

used in the thesis titles but with a limited range of head nouns such as

 

 

effect, role, and

relationship

, as in title (11). Other titles used words denoting the method of study such

as

 

 

comparative, cross-sectional, and contrastive as is the case in title (12) which is

modified by

 

 

as.

10. Attitudes and Strategies as Predictors of Self-directed Language Learning in an EFL

Context (IAL)

11. The Effect of Vocabulary Learning Strategies on the Reading Comprehension of

Iranian Learners of English (YZ)

12. A Contrastive Discourse Analysis of Lexical Cohesion as a Cohesive Device in English

& Persian (TMU)

3.2.2.2 Verb phrase titles:

Present participle, as the next most frequent structure

in both genres, is a way of increasing conciseness and attractiveness (Wang & Bai,

2007). A number of titles contained this form of VPs called

 

 

grammatical metaphor

(Halliday, 1994), a structure used more in written language, by turning verbs into nouns,

as in the following examples derived from the international articles in the present study:

13. Enhancing Automaticity Through Task-based Language Learning (AL)

14. Addressing the Issue of Teaching English as a Lingua Franca (ELT)

Each verb in the VP titles indicates a different aspect. In title (13), the VP indicates

the result while in title (14) it implies the topic. By indicating actions in almost all cases,

the VP thesis titles showed less variation in their functions. Like the article titles, all the

VPs were present participle modified by prepositional phrases or infinitive clauses, as

in title (16). Wang and Bai (2007) state that infinitive clauses introduce a future action

and concisely indicate the nature of the research.

TIESPJ, Vol. 2: 1, 2010

42

15. Investigating the Construct Validity of the FCE Reading Paper in the Iranian EFL

Context (UI)

16. Using Concordances to Explore the Impact of Inductive and Deductive Instruction on

Teaching Grammar in EFL Classes (AZU)

3.2.2.3 Prepositional phrases:

Prepositional phrases were very common in both

genres as the postmodifying phrase which, according to Biber

 

 

et al., (2000), is a good

way of presenting information in the shortest possible way, but it was one of the least

common initiating phrases of the titles. Yakhontova (2002) used the term

 

 

incomplete

sentences

to refer to prepositional phrases. Consider the following examples of article

titles from the present study:

17. Through the Looking Glass and into the Land of Lexico-grammar (ESP)

18. On the Historical Origins of Nominalized Process in Scientific Text (ESP)

Title (17) consists of two PPs, of which the second leads readers to the content,

whereas the other seems to be used to make the title more interesting. PPs might also

function as modifiers through which the scope of the topic is narrowed down, as in

title (18). Unlike the postmodifying PPs which make use of different prepositions,

almost all the PP thesis titles were initiated by

 

 

on (in a rare case toward was used).

Contrary to the PP in the article titles, almost in all the thesis titles the postmodifers

served the topic by presenting different aspects of the study (see title 19).

19. On the Possibility of Excluding Phonological Recoding from the Process of Reading

(TMU)

3.2.3 Compound titles

Haggan (2004) believes that compound constructions are the common type of

titles. The results showed that compound structures were more frequent and diverse in

the article than the thesis titles, in which the dash, hyphen, comma, colon, full stop,

exclamation point, and question mark are used to separate the different parts. Consider

the following article examples:

20. Language Play, a Collaborative Resource in Children’s L2 Learning (AL)

21. How Rude! Teaching Impoliteness in the Second-language Classroom (ELT)

Alireza Jalilifar

43

22. Letters to the Editor: Still Vigorous after All These Years?: A Presentation of the

Discursive and Linguistic Features of the Genre (ESP)

Title (20) is a compound title whose two parts are complementary and linked by a

comma. In fact, this title would be a sentence if the punctuation mark were a verb. Other

titles have structurally independent parts, as in title (21), where an abridged sentence is

accompanied by a VP. In a few other titles (e.g. title 22), more than two parts shape the

title.

As in the article titles, the most common compound title in the theses was the

combination of two NPs. However, less variation was detected in the punctuation in the

thesis titles, with colon being the most frequent. Titles with semicolon as the linking

device were rare (e.g. title 23) and, in a few titles, no punctuation was used; instead the

two parts were typed on two different lines.

23. Crosslinguistic Acquisition of Tens and Passive Constructions from a Generative

Perspective ; a Morphological Variability Study (UI)

3.2.4 Informativeness

The overarching pragmatic aim is to quickly inform readers of an article whether

or not the paper is relevant to their area of interest, and this can be effectively done in

the title. A good title should indicate the topic and the main point of the study in a clear

and concise way (Zeiger, 1991), so that it can be informative to readers. At the very

least, an article title should adequately describe the topic of the text that follows it.

A few instances of article titles with no clear indications of topic were seen (see

24-26) where the reader cannot make any sound assumption about the topic. Considering

the needs of readers in finding the required information in the shortest possible way,

writing ambiguous titles would not be very reader-friendly, because readers do not

usually decide on the topic by trial and error, and they would simply overlook these titles.

24. Looking Outwards, Not Inwards (ELT)

25. Facilitator Talk (ELT)

26. From Elegy to Ology (ELT)

A frequent feature in the article titles was using more than one topic, a general and

TIESPJ, Vol. 2: 1, 2010

44

a more specific one, similar to what Swales and Feak (1994) suggest for presenting the

information content of the research in a title. Title (27) includes two topics where the

italicized term is the general topic and the one in bold is the more specific one.

27.

 

 

Writing in Business Courses: An Analysis of Assignment Types, Their Characteristics, and

Required Skills (ESP)

28. Compared to the article titles, very few thesis titles contained two topics. Take the

following title where the general topic is narrowed down into three specific ones.

29. A Comparative Study of

 

 

Question Strategies in Testing Reading Comprehension:

PreQuestioning, Post-Questioning

and Infixing (SRCA)

Topic-method, as in (30), was a popular construction in the thesis titles. The topic

is a pivot part (italicized in the example) narrowed by other parts with different degrees

of importance.

30.

 

 

Ego Identity of Language and Language: A Comparative Study (SU)

The article titles with topic-method structure (e.g., 31) also limit their topics by a

prepositional phrase (bold in the example) presenting the scope of the study and adding

to their informativeness.

31. Writing Titles

 

 

in Science: An Exploratory Study (ESP)

A less frequent aspect in both groups is the area. Title (32) is an informative thesis

title where almost all aspects of the study, including even the less common aspects of

area (bold in the example) and method are explicitly presented. This aspect was rarely

included in the article titles.

32.

 

 

A Cognitively-based Exploration of Language-switching in the Written Performances of

Iranian EFL Learners (UI)

About half of the thesis titles incorporated general classifying words in their initial

phrases (e.g.,

 

 

impact, role, relationship, effect, etc.) to indicate the results of the study.

Another frequent group of words indicated the actions taken by the researchers such as

study

, investigation, describing, and analysis. Some thesis titles even applied both of

them (33). This kind of title was also seen in only one article title (34).

33. The Study of the Relationship between Iranian EFL Students’ Expectations of Their

Teachers and Achievement Scores, Their Expectations and Self-evaluation; and Their

Alireza Jalilifar

45

Achievement Scores and Self-evaluation (SRCT)

34. An Investigation of the Relationship between Forms of Positive Interdependence,

Social Support, and Selected Aspects of Classroom Climate (SYS)

Title (33) needs extra revision because of the unnecessary repetition misconstrued

as informativeness; furthermore, four occurrences of the function word

 

 

and is convincing

enough to repair it because function words are often omitted to enhance economy and

compactness. It seems that thesis writers commit themselves to the use of noun phrases

under any condition. Title (35) is an NP title with an embedded parenthetical PP that

could simply be separated by a punctuation mark to keep its informativeness.

35.‘The Relationship between Participants’ Role (In Learner-learner Vs. Teacher-learner

Interactions) and Speaking Skill Performance (SRCT)

Contrary to the diversity involved in the structure of the article titles, the results

indicated that thesis titles follow a fixed format, usually picked from earlier theses,

available to novice researchers, where these copies are stored. For example, most thesis

titles of one university were NPs beginning with either

 

 

the effect or the relationship. The

thesis titles of another university, on the other hand, tended toward the use of the action

word,

 

 

study.

An important difference between the article and thesis titles was the use of amusing

or pithy wordings in the article titles, a feature that was totally absent from the thesis

titles. The following example starts with a quoted sentence followed by different aspects

of the research which seem to be likely to make readers aware of the content.

36.“I’d Love to Put Someone in Jail for This”: An Initial Investigation of English in the

Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) Industry (ESP)

4 Discussion

Contrary to Soler’s (2007) finding, that economy is a common feature of titles in

all genres and disciplines, the present study suggests the absence of this feature in

almost all thesis titles. Soler’s generalization is to some extent in line with my findings

TIESPJ, Vol. 2: 1, 2010

46

regarding article titles but not thesis titles. Thesis supervisors, at least in Iran, are often

concerned about the information content rather than the size of the title. On the other

hand, article writers demonstrate their concern for the physical size of a title because

most journals set limitations on the number of words in a title.What seems to be lacking

in the existing literature on titles is that no possible reasons are offered for the length

differences across the two genres. Some researchers (e.g., Swales & Feak, 1994), however,

believe that title length is a disciplinary feature. The results of this study point to genre

differences emerging even within one discipline.

The difference in the length of titles lies at two ends of a continuum. At one end,

limitation is imposed on the number of words in a title due to the limited space available

to article writers, and, at the other end, in thesis titles, there is little to constrain length,

because the purpose is to enhance informativeness.

In addition, the audience and its size have an important influence on the conventions

of writing (Koutsantoni, 2006; Yakhontova, 2002); titles, as a part of academic writing,

cannot be excluded from this effect. In order to obtain membership of a discourse

community, writers use rhetorical strategies and conventions of the discipline to show

that they are aware of the expectations of the genres; otherwise, they would fail to fit

into that community. Thesis writers often write for national audiences of the same

linguistic background. They primarily address their thesis supervisors and advisors and

only secondarily other readers. Their concern is to convince the first party on the nature

and context of their work and to show that they are aware of the boundaries and variables

involved in it.

Article writers, on the other hand, are experts who address international audiences,

many of whom are professional informants in their own fields. This position might

“counterbalance the power and status asymmetries and give expert authors more room

to present themselves as experts and address gatekeepers as equals” (Koutsantoni, 2006,

p. 21), making article writers more confident about their claims and giving them more

courage to lend individual style to their titles through the use of less formal patterns.

This is not true of thesis writers who are required to be more formal and conservative in

presenting their claims, even in their titles, which might be the result of the perceived

Alireza Jalilifar

47

distance, in terms of power and professional status, between thesis writers and their

supervisors. In fact, English proficiency and experience may be two important factors

that constrain the Iranian thesis writers’ ability to craft

 

 

creative titles. If supervisors and

other national audiences care more about informativeness, it may not be easy to

persuade thesis writers to work on the

 

 

creative aspect of titles.

The linguistic choices employed in title writing seem to be a generic peculiarity

(Haggan, 2004). The results of the present study also indicate that noun phrases are a

feature of thesis titles, a result which confirms the study by Dudley-Evans (1984), while

compound constructions are a characteristic of article titles which is in line with the

findings of Soler (2007). This leads one to conclude that the structural configuration

plays a distinguishing role between the two groups of titles and that structural variation

is most probably caused by genre influences. Genres as frames of

 

 

social action and

environments of learning

offer a special form to their members to interact with by

shaping their thoughts (Bazerman, 1997). Therefore, the titles of both genres may

possess distinct communicative purposes which are realized through a specific structure

for a specific community.

Titles, in one way or another, seem to reflect the contents of the research. But

content is more explicitly echoed in thesis than article titles. Explicitness is linked to

informativeness; that is, the more explicit a title, the more informative it would be.

Postmodifying prepositional phrases

 

 

a characteristic of science research article titles

(Haggan, 2004)

 

 

are regarded as an appropriate strategy of being more explicit in

terms of reflecting on the content by the thesis writers. The article writers, on the other

hand, tend to apply both pre- and postmodifiers as a strategy of explicitness. Some of

these premodifiers were the unclear parts of compound constructions which were

illustrated by the postmodifiers or even left unmodified. Take the following example

where the title starts with an unclear part carrying no information as regards the content

of the study, which is then clarified in the next part of the title:

37. Tape it Yourself: Videotapes for Teacher Education (ELT)

When an article title begins with a premodifier, it creates a limbo in the reader’s

mind which is then disambiguated by the following part. This strategy is certainly a

TIESPJ, Vol. 2: 1, 2010

48

distinguishing feature between article and thesis titles since it was rarely used in the

latter titles. Therefore, article titles tend to be more ambiguous compared to thesis titles

by the use of specific structures. However, to prove this genre peculiarity of the Applied

Linguistics article titles, more studies are required.

Quotations, as one of the widely used elements in article titles, despite their rather

uninformative appearances, serve different functions. When writers make use of quotations

in their titles, they lead their readers into a web of intrigue. Sometimes, as in the following

title, the quotation represents a part of the topic which is later dealt with in the paper.

38. “I Would Like to Thank my Supervisor”: Acknowledgements in Graduate Dissertations

(IAL)

Title (38) needs further specification because the scope of the study is not

mentioned. Some other article titles use intriguing elements that shroud ideas in figures,

such as analogies, idioms, metaphors, allegory, and proverbs (titles 39-43 respectively)

which are rarely discussed in the existing literature on titles. These elements function as

a conduit through which personal ideas are imparted. This way, the illocutionary meaning

of a title, besides the propositional content, is communicated, which brings one

common force, namely reading the paper, or at least scanning its content.

39. “It’s Like a Story”: Rhetorical Knowledge Development in Advanced Academic

Literacy (EAP)

40. Criteria for Re-defining Idioms: Are We Barking up the Wrong Tree? (AL)

41. In the Same Boat? On Metaphor Variation as Mediating the Individual Voice in

Organizational Change (AL)

42. Big Brother Is Helping You: Supporting Self-access Language Learning with a

Student Monitoring System (SYS)

43. “Just What the Doctor Ordered”: The Application of Problem-based Learning to EAP

(ESP)

In only one case, title (44), an idiom initiated a thesis title where the topic is

idiomaticity.

44. A Piece of Cake or a Hard Nut to Crack: Investigating Intermediate and Advanced EFL

Learners’ Performance on Different Tests of Idiom Type (UI)

Alireza Jalilifar

49

Ambiguous expressions as a characteristic of article titles are either used as stand-alone

titles, (45), or followed by other parts functioning as clarifications to the enigma created

by the writer, to impress and arouse the readers’ curiosity. Even some titles, such as

title (46), started or ended with an esoteric non-English expression.

45. Looking Outwards, Not Inwards (ELT)

46. ‘Lego My Keego!’: An Analysis of Language Play in a Beginning Japanese as a

Foreign Language Classroom (AL)

Such titles might not meet the requirements of a good title suggested by different

scholars, but they are eye-catching enough to persuade the reader to scrutinize their

content, which might be the result of the interpersonal function communicated through

this kind of rhetoric. The proverbial or idiomatic frameworks and abridged sentences

which are a feature of spoken discourse make article titlesmore reader-friendly by establishing

a closer tie between the reader and the writer who, despite the physical distance, uses

more informal structures in deference to the interpersonal functions of titles. In contrast,

thesis writers report the results and rely on the propositional meaning at the cost of

establishing a rapport with the readers and the interpersonal functions of the titles.

Concerning the second research question, achieving informativeness bymentioning all

aspects of a study would be at the expense of losing economy and conciseness. This

would probably result in over-informativeness, violating the cooperative principle

(Grice, 1975) because one needs to present as much information as is needed in order

to keep to Grice’s maxims. Observing informativeness as an effective way of reflecting

on content, by offering the necessary information, while keeping economy and conciseness:

such is the ideal approach to title writing. The following example is a thesis title on the

discussion sections of research articles:

47. A Comparative Study of Research Article and Ph. D. Dissertation Discussion

Sections: Variations across Sub-disciplines of Applied Linguistics (SRCA)

Now, compare it with the following article title with a similar point of focus:

48. Communicative Moves in the Discussion Section of Research Articles (SYS)

Both titles are informative in terms of introducing the topic, but title (47) is more

informative since more angles of the research

 

 

method, corpus, and scopeare

TIESPJ, Vol. 2: 1, 2010

50

mentioned. It is asserted that titles that give more details, more accurately, better serve

the needs of readers in finding relevant information. But the question is: Should

informativeness be regarded as the only feature of an effective title? Economy and

informativeness are two features that have to be taken into account. To economize

means to have one eye on informativeness; that is, relative informativeness would be

enough for writing an effective article title, while this is not necessarily so for a thesis

title. In fact, economy and informativeness are incorporated with different degrees in

writing both kinds of title. Where economy is more important, then some salient information

from the title is removed, and where informativeness matters, then economy is partially

lost.

Some researchers (e.g., Zeiger, 1991) emphasize writing clear titles neglecting

other more important functions of titles, such as originality and humor, and their effect

on the advisory committees or journal gatekeepers responsible for the acceptance or

rejection of titles. More interesting titles, however, seem to receive more attention and

probability of acceptance. Thesis titles are free from this concern because they only

have to suit the supervisors and the examiners, who seem to care more about

informativeness.

The marked differences in writing academic titles and the dearth of accepted

standards for title writing (Soler, 2007) suggest there is room for provision of more

comprehensive guidelines to researchers.

5. Conclusion and implications

An in-depth understanding of titles is useful, because novice researchers might

experience difficulties inmeeting the title requirements of the genre in which they write.

It seems that supervisors take thesis titles very seriously and expect students to write titles

that explicitly reflect the content of the thesis with little creativity and innovation.

Therefore, in research writing courses, the syllabus should contain guidelines on title

writing through which students experience different structures and learn how to write

Alireza Jalilifar

51

effective titles. The linguistic features of titles should be incorporated into academic

writing courses at postgraduate levels to prepare student researchers for participation in

the world of publication.

The title of any academic article mirrors its content and acts as a medium through

which the communicative purposes of a specific genre are conveyed. This mirror should

be clear enough to reflect what it is supposed to show. To serve this purpose, and in

order to learn the proper ways of title writing, one should be aware of the genre, scope,

area, and context of the research. Furthermore, enough information is needed about the

variables under study and their relationship, so that one can consider and then effectively

recapitulate all aspects of the research at one glance. This awareness, if developed in

class, can be a source of inspiration for novice writers. One way through which title

writing can be enhanced is by analyzing article titles of leading journals, published as

they are under strict requirements and after careful scrutiny. This would make them a

reliable source for student researchers.

Graduate students should be encouraged to express a personal voice in their thesis

title even though their conventional genres may not use personal language. It might be

the right time to free thesis writers from the cliché frames of titles and let them practice

more creativity. It might take the genre community quite a while to accept such changes

but these changes, if made for the better, would eventually be accepted. Partly, this

change might be made by teachers who will affect the way in which a particular genre

changes. Sometimes, a tiny change in an aspect might be the starting point of a revolution

in the genre, or even in the field.

Despite its appeal, the present study is not without its shortcomings. To identify the

general trends in title formulation, a more comprehensive corpus is needed

 

 

one that

covers a wider range of titles from writers with different linguistic backgrounds. Nationality

and mother tongue probably influences title choice; this could be a research avenue in

its own right. The choice of only six Applied Linguistics journals also makes us less

confident about the generalizations made on title formulation in this discipline. A wider

range of journals and amore limited time spanwould therefore offer amore representative

sample for title investigation.

TIESPJ, Vol. 2: 1, 2010

52

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Alireza Jalilifar

About writingwithmichael
Expressive, observant and passionate

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