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Titles and Subtitles

Chapter:
Manuscript Preparation
Author(s):

Cheryl Iverson

Titles and Subtitles

Titles should be concise, specific, and informative and should contain the key points of the work. For scientific manuscripts, overly general titles are not desirable (but see also 2.1.7, Names of Cities, Counties, States, Provinces, and Countries).

Avoid:

Cocaine Use and Homicide

Better:

Cocaine Use and Homicide Among Men in New York City

(Note: The shorter, more general title might be appropriate for an editorial or an opinion piece.)

Similarly, although the subtitle is frequently useful in expanding on the title, it should not contain key elements of the study as a supplement to an overly general title.

Avoid:

Psychiatric Disorders: A Rural-Urban Comparison

Better:

Rural-Urban Differences in the Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorders

Avoid:

Multiple Sclerosis: Sexual Dysfunction and Response to Medications

Better:

Sexual Dysfunction and Response to Medications in Multiple Sclerosis

Avoid:

Hospitalization for Congestive Heart Failure: Explaining Racial Differences

Better:

Racial Differences in Hospitalization Rates for Congestive Heart Failure

Avoid:

Cardiovascular Evaluation of Competitive Athletes: Medical and Legal Issues

Better:

Medical and Legal Issues in the Cardiovascular Evaluation of Competitive Athletes

However, too much detail also should be avoided. Subtitles should complement the title by providing supplementary information that will supply more detail about the content and aid in information retrieval. Several examples of informative title and subtitle combinations appear below:

BRCA1 Testing in Families With Hereditary Breast-Ovarian Cancer: A Prospective Study of Patient Decision Making and Outcomes

Prevention of Systemic Infections, Especially Meningitis, Caused by Haemophilus influenzae Type b: Impact on Public Health and Implications for Other Polysaccharide-Based Vaccines

Long-term Outcome of Patients With Essential Thrombocythemia: Prognostic Factors for Thrombosis, Bleeding, Myelofibrosis, and Leukemia

Prevalence of Cutaneous Adverse Effects of Hairdressing: A Systematic Review

Subtitles of scientific manuscripts may be used to amplify the title; however, the main title should be able to stand alone (ie, the subtitle should not be a continuation of the title or a substitute for a succinct title):

Avoid:

An Unusual Type of Pemphigus: Combining Features of Lupus Erythematosus

Better:

Pemphigus With Features of Lupus Erythematosus

Avoid:

Von Hippel–Lindau Disease: Affecting 43 Members of a Single Kindred

Better:

Von Hippel–Lindau Disease in 43 Members of a Single Kindred

Phrases such as “Role of,” “Effects of,” “Treatment of,” “Use of,” and “Report of a Case of” can often be omitted from both titles and subtitles.

Avoid:

Effect of Smoking on Lung Cancer Risk

Better:

Smoking and Lung Cancer Risk

Avoid:

Use of Gastric Acid–Suppressive Agents and Risk of Community-Acquired Clostridium difficile–Associated Disease

Better:

Gastric Acid–Suppressive Agents and the Risk of Community-Acquired Clostridium difficile–Associated Disease

Sometimes, especially in randomized controlled trials, in which causality can be demonstrated, the use of such phrases as “effects of” is appropriate.

Effects of Protein, Monounsaturated Fat, and Carbohydrate Intake on Blood Pressure and Serum Lipids: Results of the OmniHeart Randomized Trial

Declarative sentences are used frequently as titles of news stories and opinion pieces (eg, “Experts Set 2005 Influenza Vaccine Policy and Plan for Unpredictable Pandemic,” “Spate of Lawsuits May Finally Find Chink in Tobacco Industry’s ‘Impenetrable Armor’”). However, sentences in scientific article titles tend to overemphasize a conclusion and are best avoided.

Avoid:

Fibromyalgia Is Common in a Postpoliomyelitis Clinic

Better:

Prevalence of Fibromyalgia in Patients With Postpoliomyelitis Syndrome

Similarly, questions should not be used for titles of scientific manuscripts.

Avoid:

Is Television Viewing Associated With Social Isolation? Roles of Exposure Time, Viewing Context, and Violent Content

Better:

Television Viewing and Social Isolation: Roles of Exposure Time, Viewing Context, and Violent Content

Questions are generally more appropriate for titles of editorials, commentaries, and opinion pieces:

Levothyroxine and Osteoporosis: An End to the Controversy?

Toward Improved Glycemic Control in Diabetes: What’s on the Horizon?

Postradiotherapy Pelvic Fractures: Cause for Concern or Opportunity for Further Research?

Randomized controlled trials should be identified in the title or subtitle because this alerts readers to the level of evidence and the study design and is helpful to researchers performing a meta-analysis:

Physical Rehabilitation for Frail Nursing Home Residents: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Other aspects of study design or methods may be included in the title or subtitle.

Sex Differences of Endogenous Sex Hormones and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Oxycodone for Cancer-Related Pain: Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

Depression, Apolipoprotein E Genotype, and the Incidence of Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Prospective Cohort Study

Incidence of Multiple Primary Melanoma: Two-Year Results From a Population-Based Study

An Observational Study of Cognitive Impairment in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Sometimes a subtitle will contain the name of the group responsible for the study, especially if the study is large and is best known by its group name or acronym or if it is a part of a series of reports from the same group (see also 14.9, Abbreviations, Collaborative Groups):

Lowering Dietary Intake of Fat and Cholesterol in Children With Elevated Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Levels: The Dietary Intervention Study in Children (DISC)

Prevention of Stroke by Antihypertensive Drug Treatment in Older Patients With Isolated Systolic Hypertension: Final Results of the Systolic Hypertension in the Elderly Program (SHEP)

Administrative Data Feedback for Effective Cardiac Treatment: AFFECT, a Cluster Randomized Trial

Some journals, such as JAMA, have moved away from including the study name in the title or subtitle for any but the original report of outcomes or secondary analyses that provide unique information.

Low-Fat Dietary Pattern and Risk of Invasive Breast Cancer: The Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial

For the majority of secondary analyses, having the study name in the abstract is sufficient for information retrieval. In the following example, the study participants were members of the Framingham Offspring Study, an inception cohort of the Framingham Heart Study.

Sibling Cardiovascular Disease as a Risk Factor for Cardiovascular Disease in Middle-aged Adults

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