Over the next few days, we’ll be sharing strategies for writing effective titles in our new writing series, What’s in a Name? How to Write an Effective Title. We’ll end the week with a writing exercise so you can practice what you’ve learned. This writing 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.
Let’s start with a basic question:
Why are titles important?
All types of scholarly publications have a title, so learning how to write an effective title will serve you well in all your writing.
The title is the first, and sometimes only, part of your article that potential readers will see, so it’s important to grab their attention and entice them to read your article. It’s also important to accurately portray your work so readers aren’t misled by a catchy but not-quite-accurate title.
Search engines (e.g., Google) and databases (e.g., PubMed or Scopus) use key words to pull up search results, so if your title is missing relevant key words, your article won’t appear in the search results. This means readers might not be able to find your article or at least might not be able to find it easily. For example, an article describing an intervention to decrease burnout and improve well-being in residents should include the following key words in the title: burnout, well-being, and residents. Consider that more than 50% of academicmedicine.org 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.
Readers scan the title to decide whether to read your article, cite it in their own work, or include it in a literature review, all of which you want to happen.
An effective title, then, is key to getting your article noticed and read, which is the first step toward making sure your work has an impact.
Tomorrow, we’ll present examples from articles published in Academic Medicine to explore in more depth what makes a title effective. 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.