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How to write an effective title

 

How to write an effective title

You should not underestimate the importance of an effective title. The title is the first thing an editor, reviewer, and reader will see; a title that is poorly constructed may deter viewers from reading further. Titles are also important for indexing purposes; a well-constructed title will make it easier for people searching for papers on your topic to discover your paper.

In this blog, we look at some questions frequently asked by authors writing a title. We also examine the different styles of titles used in scientific manuscripts—e.g., titles that ask a question, or present a result, or leave the reader in suspense—and discuss their pros and cons.

Frequently asked questions

How long should my title be?

Effective titles are typically 10–20 words long. You should aim to be as concise yet informative as possible. There is evidence to suggest that papers with shorter titles may be easier to understand, and hence attract more citations [1].

Should I include specific taxonomic and regional descriptors in the title, e.g., the model organism or the specific region the data were collected in?

It is generally recommended to be specific rather than broad, as this gives the reader a clear indication of what to expect in your paper. Including specific taxonomic and regional descriptors is also good for indexing purposes. However, you should avoid being overly specific.

Effectively specificEffects of light and darkness on pH regulation in three coral species exposed to seawater acidification
Overly broadpH regulation in coral
Overly specificEffects of light and darkness on pH regulation and calcification in three coral species, Stylophora pistillata, Pocillopora damicornis and Acropora hyacinthus, exposed to seawater acidification
Should I include expressions such as “Study/Investigation/Analysis/Preliminary observations of…”.

No. These are redundant expressions and should not be included. However, it is generally recommended to indicate if the study is a meta-analysis or part of a larger study.

e.g., A meta-analysis of the association between Parkinson’s disease and subsequent prostate cancer risk

e.g., Development and validation of a simple hip fracture risk prediction tool for type 2 diabetes: The Fremantle Diabetes Study Phase I

Is it ok to do something a little different?

Yes. For example, if you have a unique selling point, it is ok to reference it in the title.

e.g., A catalog of genetic loci associated with kidney function from analyses of a million individuals

Generally, clever wordplay and cultural references are advised against in titles of scientific manuscripts (see the pros and cons below).

e.g., You probably think this paper’s about you: narcissists’ perceptions of their personality and reputation.

Title styles

1. Titles that announce the general subject

e.g., Pharmacotherapy for patients with obesity

e.g., Competitiveness of agricultural products in the Eurasian Economic Union

Pros

  • An appealing title style; if kept short, can be attention-grabbing.
  • Appeals to readers looking for broad foundational information on a topic.
  • Most suitable for review articles.

Cons

  • Can be difficult to be informative while maintaining appeal.
  • Not the most effective for indexing purposes.

2. Titles that announce the subtopic of the general subject

e.g., Personally relevant online advertisements: Effects of demographic targeting on visual attention and brand evaluation

e.g., Mechanism of paraoxonase-1: Comparing the reactivity of the six-bladed β-propeller hydrolases

Pros

  • Effective for indexing purposes.
  • A standard title style, commonly used in clinical cases, research papers and reviews.
  • Use of a colon has been shown to correlate positively with impact [2].

Cons

  • Can be difficult to include all the information you want concisely.

3. Titles that state the main finding

e.g., Cu ion implantation improves the performance of Si film anode used in lithium ion batteries

e.g., Inhibition of activin-like kinase 4/5 attenuates cancer cachexia associated muscle wasting

Pros

  • Conveys the largest amount of information to the reader.
  • Effective for disseminating the main conclusion of your study.
  • Effective for indexing purposes.

Cons

  • Not encouraged in certain fields; e.g., in medicine, editors are cautious about such titles because of the potential impacts on public health.
  • You run the risk of overstating the implications of your findings. This could alarm editors/reviewers.

4. Titles that state the aim, i.e., indicate that an answer to a question will be revealed

e.g., Effects of on-pump versus off-pump coronary artery bypass grafting on myocardial metabolism

e.g., Assessment of multiple mycotoxins in breakfast cereals available in the Portuguese market

Pros

  • Keeps the reader in suspense. The title does not reveal the main finding of the study, enticing the reader to read the abstract/full paper.
  • A standard title style, commonly used in scientific manuscripts.
  • Effective for indexing purposes.

Cons

  • Can be difficult to include all the information you want concisely.

5. Titles that indicate the methodology used

e.g., Noninvasive prenatal diagnosis of single-gene disorders by use of droplet digital PCR

e.g., Machine learning models for early sepsis recognition in the neonatal intensive care unit

Pros

  • Effective for indexing, especially in relation to the methodology.

Cons

  • Can be difficult to construct if the name of the methodology is long, e.g., normal-phase liquid chromatography mass spectrometry.

6. Titles in the form of a question

e.g., Can dengue virus be sexually transmitted?

e.g., Can enzyme proximity accelerate cascade reactions?

Pros

  • Keeps the reader in suspense.
  • An appealing title style; if kept short, can be attention-grabbing.

Cons

  • Can be difficult to be informative whilst maintaining appeal.
  • Not the most effective for indexing purposes.

7. Titles with wordplay

e.g., Beautiful interpolants

e.g., Sleeping Beauties in science

e.g., To freeze or not to freeze: A culture-sensitive motion capture approach to detecting deceit

Pros

  • Can be provocative and appealing.
  • If used in conjunction with a colon can be provocative whilst also being informative.

Cons

  • May be confusing to an international audience.

References

1. Letchford A, Moat HS, Preis T. The advantage of short paper titles. Royal Soc Open Sci. 2015 Aug 1;2(8):150266.

2. Buter RK, van Raan AF. Non-alphanumeric characters in titles of scientific publications: An analysis of their occurrence and correlation with citation impact. J Informetr. 2011 Oct 1;5(4):608-17.

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