What’s in a Title?

Deciding on the right title for your manuscript is very important. The title is what first attracts readers. It calls out  – Hey! Look at this article! It’s interesting! It has just the information you were looking for!

As readers scan through a table of contents or articles that come up in a literature search, it is the title that will first snag their attention. A poorly worded title, one that is obtuse, misleading, or unneccesarily cumbersome, loses readers. Intended readers don’t pay attention to it and those who thought it represented something different will leave once they hit the abstract.

What makes a good title? It needs to tell the reader – accurately and concisely – what is to come. That means brevity – using the fewest possible words to accurately describe the contents of the paper. Avoid using jargon, acronyms, and abbreviations in a title.

The title also needs to be effective in leading readers to your article. It should help readers locate the paper in indexes and databases. A key word should begin the title, not be buried somewhere, or even worst, left out altogether. Here are examples for a paper about the emotional fallout of cardiac disease in adolescents:

What it feels like to have cardiac disease as an adolescent: The emotional fallout. (BAD. Long, wordy, key words buried)

Cardiac disease in adolescents: Emotional fallout. (GOOD. Short, begins with key words and four out of six words are key words)

A great title is like a great lead, it even engages readers who didn’t know they were interested in the topic! This is particularly true of titles that are evocative or provocative. But be careful you don’t cross the line to sappy, cute or nasty, none of which will attract the readers you want.

If your paper involves interviews, you often can find a good title in one of the quotes. If it’s a research study, do not use an emphatic conclusion as a title. An isolated study rarely “proves” anything and your title shouldn’t state that it does.

Don’t write to your title. Write to the stated purpose of your paper. Wait till the paper is completed to write your title.

Once you’ve decided on a title, check if it meets these criteria:

  1. Accurately reflects the contents of the paper
  2. Is clear and concise
  3. Contains key words
  4. No abbreviations or acronyms (except commonly known, i.e. DNA)
  5. No jargon
  6. Will generate interest in reading the paper
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