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How to write a good research paper title

How to write a good research paper title

The rules for paper titles vary from journal to journal. Some journals also have word or character count limits on titles. Below are five key recommendations for ensuring that your title meets the journal guidelines.

1. Check the author information for instructions

Most journals have author guidelines or author information that addresses expectations for a paper title. That’s where you’ll find specific about word or character count, style for the title, and other details.

2. Check to see if you can use abbreviations

Some journals require that titles not include any abbreviations. Excluding them can be difficult if a term is long and unwieldy, as with many gene names, or if it is more recognizable in its abbreviated rather than spelled-out form, as DNA is. Spelling out terms also can add many words and characters and push a title past the specified limits. Although journal guidelines might say that authors cannot use abbreviations, you can check recently published papers form the journal to see if the editors allow for exceptions. You also can contact an editor to ask specifically about your terms.

3. Check on the specific title elements the journal requires

Some journals require that titles make a statement, like a declarative sentence, as in this example:

Aromatase inhibitors do not affect outcomes in non-hormone-receptor-positive cancers

Other journals specifically state that the title should not be a sentence, as in this example:

Effects of aromatase inhibitors in non-hormone-receptor positive cancers

Journals also may specify that the authors should include the study design in the title, if possible, as in this example:

Effects of aromatase inhibitors in non-hormone-receptor positive cancers: a case-control study

You can check sample published papers from your target journal to get a good idea of the kinds of titles that are acceptable.

Make sure you meet the journal’s word or character count limits for a title.  Some journals specify a specific maximum number of words or characters, with or without spaces. You should not exceed that limit. Below are some examples of ways to shorten an overlong title.

Remove prepositional phrases and make them modifiers that precede the noun. For example, this title:

Knockout of the aromatase gene in the brains of mice leads to increased levels of testosterone

Can be shortened to:

Aromatase gene knockout in mouse brain leads to increased testosterone

To count your words or characters in MS Word, highlight the entire title. Under the Review tab in Word, selected “Word count,” on the far left of the ribbon. The results will show the number of words and the number of characters counting spaces and not counting spaces. Journals usually include spaces in character counts.

4. Match the journal style

Journals vary in the style rules for titles. Most journals will want the title in the same font as the rest of the text, but some call for a larger font and boldface or other styling.

Some journals use “title case,” in which all of the important words are capitalized, for example:

Aromatase Gene Knockout in Mouse Brain Leads to Increased Testosterone

Some will capitalized every word, regardless of importance:

Aromatase Gene Knockout In Mouse Brain Leads To Increased Testosterone

And some use sentence case, in which only the first letter of the first word and any proper nouns or abbreviations are capitalized:

Aromatase gene knockout in mouse brain leads to increased testosterone

Again, a look at sample papers from the journal can serve as a guide to style, if the author instructions or guidelines do not offer specifics

5. Use keywords

Journals increasingly want authors to include important keywords in titles so that search engines can find them more readily. Some journals also require authors to try to use different keywords in the title and in the keyword list that also accompanies the paper. The best approach is to make a list of the 5–10 more important terms related to your work and use the specific ones in your title and the less specific options in your keyword list.

San Francisco Edit specializes in scientific editing in the United States and we work with scientists from all over the world.

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