Scientists do not often spend much time on the titles of their manuscripts, but many authors consider the title to be the most important part of any written work. In addition to catching the eye of potential readers, the title is your first chance to make a good impression on reviewers and journal editors. Here are some suggestions for choosing the best title for your manuscript:
Keep it short
Lengthy titles will not be read completely, and therefore, some readers may avoid opening the full manuscript. Research by Paiva et al. shows that articles with shorter titles are viewed and cited more frequently. Knight and Ingersoll suggest that 16 words should be the maximum length of a title. Leave out unnecessary “filler” words such as effects of, comparison of, or a case of. Also, do not use abbreviations to save space; all terms should be written out.
AJE's Manuscript Formatting service includes verifying that the word count of your title, abstract, and figure legends complies with journal guidelines.
…but don’t make it too short!
If you include too little information, no one will read further. For example, “Novel cancer biomarker” is far too broad to describe one study. (Which type of cancer is being studied? Is this a new kind of biomarker or just a new example of one?) Make sure that you provide enough information in your title to make your study unique.
Don’t use a question or complete sentence
Choose a descriptive phrase, not a sentence. Questions should not be used as titles - provide the answer instead. In the majority of cases, writing a complete sentence simply introduces unnecessary words. For example, “Red hens undergo spontaneous chromosome rearrangement when exposed to ultraviolet light” (11 words) can be shortened to “Ultraviolet light-induced chromosome rearrangement in red hens” (7 words).
Don’t oversell your manuscript
Do not use terms such as novel or first time unless you are absolutely sure no one has published anything similar. These terms are red flags for reviewers and editors. Make sure you can deliver on your title. If you mention uncovering the “molecular mechanism of chromosome rearrangement in red hens,” you should provide a clear understanding of the mechanism from your results. If your results do not reveal the complete mechanism, say “Protein X contributes to chromosome rearrangement in red hens.” Everything in your manuscript should relate back to the title.
Mention the organism(s) being studied
The name of the species or breed involved in the study will almost certainly be a key word that will catch a reader’s attention.
Use other keywords that readers will search for
Try to use the most common name for a particular gene or technique to reach the most readers. Place your most important terms at the beginning and end of the title, as they will stand out to a reader who is skimming a table of contents. However, only mention the methods used if the technique is the primary focus of the paper. The study referenced above (Paiva et al., 2012) also shows that articles with titles focused on methods are read less frequently.
Because writing a good title can be difficult, get your colleagues to help! Try writing three or four options, and then ask a few fellow researchers which title grabs their attention the best or which title fits your data most closely. Taking the time to choose the strongest title for your manuscript can make a good impression during peer review and lead to more readers. We hope that this post will help you the next time you are deciding on a title for your work! As always, let us know if you have any questions.