It is said that "To give added punch, articles are often dropped in the titles of books, movies, music, and other works of art" and "To save space and boost impact, articles are usually dropped in headlines."

Source: David Appleyard's English Language Help Site

Is there any general rule or reference about dropping articles, especially in academic research papers?

  • 2
    It might help if you gave an example sentence where you're not sure which usage is prefered. Commented Aug 21, 2011 at 18:36
  • 1
    I voted to migrate this to Writers. I think this type of question is more about writing style than grammatical correctness.
    – user10893
    Commented Aug 22, 2011 at 1:20
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    @jsv Save a file back to disk is not a title. The bounty is offered on the wrong question.
    – JK2
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 13:58
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    @JK2 Well, I know it's not a title but more a caption. But I suppose this question is actually about headlinese in general and not just titles. Headlinese is used for newspaper headlines as well as for book titles and figure/caption captions. There is no real difference where we use it. Its "logic" and "rules" are the same, I suppose. Well, I'm foreigner, so I might be wrong, of course.
    – user90726
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 14:41
  • Academic titles are not titles of news articles. Very simple.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 16:05

4 Answers 4


Omitting an article (definite or indefinite) in a newspaper title is done for brevity and in order to attract more attention. There are some rules regarding titles (and they basically apply to newspapers and magazines and not to research journals). Firstly, usually Simple Present is used regardless of the time position of the action (which is usually in the past). Elaborating a bit more on the use of tenses, titles like "Egypt and Israel Move to Halt Growth of Crisis" (in The Herald Tribune, International) are quite interesting as the infinitive form "to halt" yields a shorter title.

Regarding articles, you may drop them as soon as the meaning remains clear. An example from "The Times, UK" is the title : "Fees will create class of stay-at-home students" while usually one would say "...a class...". The newspaper "Daily Mail, UK" on the other hand, in which journalists are not sparing with titles' length, you find titles like "How the rebels planned assault on Tripoli: Call to arms for 'sleeper cells' came from mosques". So it is more like a "rule of thumb" rather than a grammar rule.

In scientific papers in particular you can be more explicit and usually articles are not dropped.

  • 2
    Does this also apply to things like email subjects and git commit messages?
    – Lenar Hoyt
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 13:14
  • I upvoted it, but: "Regarding articles, you may drop them as soon as the meaning remains clear." - The current examples don't reflect the fact that it's quite common to see a title that drops one article, but preserves the other one. E.g., the definite article in the very beginning of the title is omitted, but the definite article in the middle of the same title is preserved.
    – john c. j.
    Commented Jun 12, 2020 at 10:24
  • "...the infinitive form to halt yields a shorter title...": Er, no it doesn't, in any way. "Move to Halt Growth of" is a very roundabout way of saying "Limit" or "Try to Limit", intended to work in the idea that some crisis is growing despite both Israelis & Arabs' best efforts. It's not bad writing (from newsmen's panic-maximizing POV), but it doesn't remotely reflect the point you're trying to make.
    – lly
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 3:56
  • @lly In the headline, to halt would be short for something like "are currently negotiating to cease the growing conflict."
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 5:33
  • @Mari-LouA Pull the other one. That's one longer paraphrase of the entire predicate (not to halt); I've already provided a much shorter one. Neither has anything to do with the helpfulness of infinitives in headlines. Overall, it's an adequate answer. That part of it remains nonsensical and the answer would be improved if it were corrected or removed.
    – lly
    Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 10:44

Rather than exact rules, you will find some guidelines for omitting articles in titles and headlines. More often, articles about writing a good title for a journal paper or article talk about conciseness in general. Knowing exactly which articles can be safely omitted can be tricky. I suggest finding published articles with as similar a subject matter as possible and using those titles as models.

Articles are usually omitted in titles and headlines to save space and boost impact. How to Use Articles in Academic Writing

Articles are generally omitted in titles and headlines for conciseness and directness. How To Use Articles In Academic Writing

The OP asks about the articles in this instance:

"The current example doesn't mention cases in which one of the articles is dropped and another one is not. For example, a line from the official Emacs reference card: "Save a file back to disk: C-x C-s". Why the first article is kept, but the second one, before the word "disk", is omitted? (gnu.org/software/emacs/refcards/pdf/refcard.pdf)

The article is omitted here not to save space, but because the instruction is referring to a general category (all instances), rather than a specific instance.

WHEN NOT TO USE ARTICLES Non-native English writers commonly either omit or overuse articles. Articles are not always necessary. Articles are generally not used when referring to an entire category, such as education, patience, music, etc. That is "Music enhances learning" instead of "The music enhances learning." SciTechEdit

Paging, on the other hand, is the process of moving one or usually a related cluster of pages from disk to memory (paging in) or from memory to disk ( paging out). ref

There is a large disparity between the time it takes to write to memory and the time it takes to write to disk. ref

The former refers to processes moved from disk to memory, whereas the latter corresponds to processes moved from memory to disk. ref

Read/reading from disk/memory and write/writing to disk/memory are the standard, idiomatic phrases used for computers.

In the first example above, the a related cluster of pages refers to a/any given cluster, whereas to memory and to disk are being conventionally used as a category without reference to any specific memory/disk. We see something similar with a Note/Memo to File used, for example, in a research trial to document something (e.g. conduct). We're interested in the documentation and not the specific physical file where the note is kept (usually a paper file in this case).

Note that processes has no article in the last example. These are processes in general.

In the case of a plural, ask yourself whether it is being used as a category or for specific instances. If you can replace the with these/those, it usually means the article is necessary:

Animals can be dangerous. (Animals in general; the category)

Be careful! The animals can be dangerous. (These animals... or the animals I was talking about.)

Cold water can make for an invigorating shower. Cold water in general.

The cold water was only one reason we gave the inn a bad review. Specific--the cold water (only) that came out of their shower.

  • Thanks for the great answer, DjinTonic.
    – user90726
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 19:06

The particular context of "To give added punch" is about movie/book titles. That's really an aspect of marketese, which probably has little to do with OP's question.

In general, I think this question (about in [the] hospital) shows that there are no hard-and-fast rules, but sometimes there are cases where standard usage differs between US and UK.


I am not a native speaker, but my teachers have taught me not to use any articles in titles. However, I am not completely sure that this is a general rule. I am translating a text about a faculty now and I feel that articles are just needed...if we speak about fees, professors, etc. I feel like putting THE over and over again, because we think of a specific faculty.. What is more, I believe it is okay to omit articles in newspapers, because we want the news to be short and shocking, but in some other places, a word more or less does not make a big deal.


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