Strategies for Writing Effective Titles, Part 1

Today, we’ll be sharing strategies for writing effective titles as part of our new writing series, What’s in a Name? How to Write an Effective Title. Just a quick reminder that this series is based on a workshop the Academic Medicine editorial staff developed, so the terminology and examples we use are from Academic Medicine. However, you can apply these strategies to articles you’re writing for other journals, other scholarly publications, grant applications, conference abstracts, and more. You can read the first post, “Why Titles Are Important,” as well as the other posts in this series here.

What are some strategies for writing effective titles?

Keep it simple. Titles should be straightforward and informative.

Teaching Oral Health in U.S. Medical Schools: Results of a National Survey

The Adoption of Surgical Innovations at Academic Versus Nonacademic Health Centers

These titles are concise and don’t include extraneous information, such as how many institutions were involved. They include only the most important information about the articles without providing extra details that would be more appropriate to include in the abstract or full text of the article.


Include key search terms. Ask yourself what terms readers would use to search for your article, then be sure to include those terms in your title.

It Is Time for Zero Tolerance for Sexual Harassment in Academic Medicine

Leading by Example: Role Modeling Resilience Helps Our Learners and Ourselves

These titles include key search terms like “sexual harassment,” “academic medicine,” “role modeling,” “resilience,” and “learners.” Those are all terms readers might enter into a search. By including them in the title, the authors are ensuring that their articles can be easily found. More than 50% of users come to our website from Google. If your title isn’t optimized for a search engine like Google, a lot of people may not find your work.


Limit acronyms and generally define terms and topics. Ask yourself whether readers will be familiar with an acronym before including it in the title. In most cases, it’s better to spell out the acronym than to use it in the title, but there are exceptions.

Transition to Independence: Characteristics and Outcomes of Mentored Career Development (KL2) Scholars at Clinical and Translational Science Award Institutions

Study Behaviors and USMLE Step 1 Performance: Implications of a Student Self-Directed Parallel Curriculum

In the first example, defining what a KL2 award is and including the abbreviation will help readers who are unfamiliar with this type of grant understand the topic of the article. In addition, spelling out “Clinical and Translational Science Award” will help readers who may not be familiar with the “CTSA” acronym.

In contrast, in the second example, spelling out “USMLE” (i.e., United States Medical Licensing Examination) would make the title long and difficult to read. In addition, many readers may know the exam included in the title as “USMLE Step 1” rather than “United States Medical Licensing Examination Step 1,” so they would be more likely to search for the abbreviation than for the full name. Again, this goes back to optimizing your title for a search and considering what terms readers would use to search for your article.

At Academic Medicine, we tend not to spell out acronyms that are widely known (e.g., NIH, CEO, HIV/AIDS) in titles.


Tomorrow, we’ll present additional strategies for writing effective titles. Remember to check back then for the next post in this series. You can find the complete What’s in a Name? How to Write an Effective Title series here.