What’s in a title?

Yesterday we had a meeting of the senior editorial board for JHND (and a very enjoyable and useful process it was) and amongst our discussions was a conversation about the titles that authors give to their papers. The general conclusion was that most authors give too little consideration to what they call their work and this can either result in it being perceived as low interest by the editor, or if published, can lead to low take-up by the potential readership.

 

What can authors do to make this part of their paper more effective?

Well, first of all appreciate how important the title actually is. A good title should tell the reader everything he or she needs to know about the contents of the paper in as few words as possible.  First and foremost consider whether you need to state what kind of paper you have written. Is is a review? Is it a systematic review? Often these are sought out be readers who want to capture the overview of a topic, so by stating in your title you draw your work to their attention. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the association between dietary intake of soy isoflavones and fracture risk in post-menopausal women for example leaves no doubt about the content of the paper. Similarly, Vitamin D and bone health: A review conveys so much more than just Vitamin D and bone health.

Often it is useful to get the true subject of the paper early in the title. For example The problems  associated with the use of home enteral feeding in children is a less effective title than Home enteral feeding: problems associated with use in children. The reader scanning through lists of search results on PubMed or similar engines will pick up the paper more quickly if Home enteral feeding is the start of the title.

Whilst incorporating detail into a title is important for conveying the subject matter to potential readers and attracting their attention, too much detail can be a turn off for both readers and editors. Take this example, The effect of omega 3 fatty acid consumption upon circulating lipids, blood pressure and carotid intima thickness in Norwegian fishermen. That is quite a mouthful and doesn’t grab attention for a number of reasons. 

1. It is just too long. Why not combine circulating lipids, blood pressure and carotid intima thickness into “cardiovascular risk”? Someone doing a search is far more likely to pick it up on that basis.

2. This could be an excellent paper, with great methodology and useful results, but the fact it is in Norwegian fishermen puts me off a bit. Does it matter that they are Norwegian, or that they fish? Is the lipid metabolism of Norwegian fishermen any different to Swedish, Danish or Australian fishermen? Are fishermen a high risk group for CVD? No.

So, a  more attractive title for the paper would be Dietary omega 3 fatty acids and cardiovascular risk, plus something that gives some indication of what the study was:

Dietary omega 3 fatty acids and cardiovascular risk: a randomised controlled trial

Dietary omega 3 fatty acids and cardiovascular risk: a cross-sectional study

The key point is that the title, and of course the abstract, are vital selling points for your paper. Get them right and the editor is more likely to send a manuscript for review and if published more people will read and cite the paper.

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