Is the title of your scientific journal article the first thing you write or the last? The title is the first thing readers see, and it may be what leads them to download your full article. Before you submit your paper to a journal for review, take another look at the title and consider the following best practices.
Keep It Short
Some studies of paper citations looked at the length of article titles. The findings suggest that articles with shorter titles are cited more. The optimal title length seems to be between 10 and 15 words (or 31 to 40 characters). Also consider the guidelines of the journal to which you are submitting. The journal may have a very specific word or character limit.
Use Key Words
Here’s a great tip from the TAA (Textbook & Academic Authors Association) Blog: if you were to do a database search for your article, what key words would you type in? Your article title should include those key words. This will help interested readers find your research. Other questions to ask yourself when writing drafts of the title:
It’s important to include the name of the species or model in the title. Including this important detail may help to improve science communication. A study by Triunfol and Gouveia in PLoS Biology reported that when an article’s title omitted the species in which the study was done, headlines of news stories about the article tended to omit this vital piece of information as well.
Also, include details of the research design in the title. Some journals will specify in their guidelines that the title should include mention of the research design. This detail could be included as a subtitle.
Avoid Questions and Declarative Sentences
Although a question may be appropriate for an editorial or commentary, writing the title as a question is generally frowned upon for research manuscripts. One study suggested that articles with question marks or exclamation points in the title are cited less frequently. Concerning declarative sentences, both the AMA Manual of Style and the guidelines of several journals discourage authors from writing titles as declarative sentences (eg, “Fibromyalgia Is Common in an Obesity Clinic”). The reasoning given in the AMA Manual is that declarative sentences tend to overemphasize a conclusion. (An alternate for the title above is “Prevalence of Fibromyalgia in Patients With Obesity.”)
Other Best Practices
Don’t use abbreviations in article titles. Following the same logic as in the recommendation to use key words, if you use abbreviations and jargon specific to your field, the online searches of people from other fields may not uncover your article. Do take one last look to ensure that the title is grammatical, spelled correctly, and punctuated correctly.
If you’re struggling with the title of your paper, let me know when you send your paper to me for editing. I’ll be happy to suggest a few titles for your consideration.
Do I need to acknowledge my medical editor?
The short answer: Yes. If the medical editor does not qualify for authorship (read how the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors [ICMJE] defines authorship), you should recognize her contributions to your publication in the Acknowledgments section. The ICMJE gives examples of contributions such as writing assistance, technical editing, language editing, and proofreading.
My professional organization, the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), has a position statement on the contributions of medical writers to scientific publications that also encourages acknowledgment. It reads
The American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) recognizes the valuable contributions of medical communicators to the publication team. Medical communicators who contribute substantially to the writing or editing of a manuscript should be acknowledged with their permission and with disclosure of any pertinent professional or financial relationships.
In January 2017, AMWA, the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA), and the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) released a Joint Position Statement on the Role of Professional Medical Writers. That statement also instructs authors who collaborate with a professional medical writer to acknowledge "the provision of medical writing support" and "the funding sources for the provision of medical writing support.”
In a 2020 article in the EMWA Journal Medical Writing, Hesp and Scandlyn further propose "personally acknowledging any professional medical writer who makes a substantial contribution to the outline or full first draft of a publication or who provides a substantial intellectual contribution to publication development."
The instructions for authors of the journal to which you are submitting your manuscript may also mention who should be acknowledged, usually in conjunction with a discussion of authorship. For example, the JAMA Instructions for Authors reads, “All other persons who have made substantial contributions to the work reported in the manuscript (eg, data collection, analysis, and writing or editing assistance) but who do not fulfill the authorship criteria should be named with their specific contributions in an Acknowledgment in the manuscript.
How do I acknowledge my medical editor?
When I return an edited file, along with tips on how to deal with track changes, I write
My professional organization, the American Medical Writers Association, encourages authors to acknowledge the contributions of professional medical writers and editors. Kindly consider acknowledging me for language editing or medical editing.
The joint AMWA/EMWA/ISMPP statement provides the following template:
The authors thank [name and qualifications] of [company, city, country] for providing medical writing support/editorial support [specify and/or expand as appropriate].
Acknowledging your medical editor is not just good publishing practice. An acknowledgment is welcome feedback for the editor's diligent work and will surely be appreciated.