American College of Clinical Pharmacy
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ACCP Report - November 2018

Preparing Manuscript Titles for Journal Submission

Written by C. Lindsay DeVane, Pharm.D.
Editor-in-Chief, Pharmacotherapy



Acceptance of publishable manuscripts in the biomedical literature is a competitive process. Authors desiring to have their work appear in high-impact journals for exposure to large readerships must follow numerous instructions in manuscript preparation and submission. The article’s title is an important feature of every manuscript that editors and reviewers encounter first in the editorial evaluation process. Eventually, the title is the first feature also seen by readers. This initial impression can favorably or negatively influence the review process and/or the article’s subsequent impact. Some brief comments on preparing titles may be useful to potential authors submitting manuscripts to ACCP’s official journals.

The first impression of a publication often influences the level of a reader’s interest and can determine whether an article is accessed or read. This can occur during a literature search, when scanning a table of contents, or when reviewing an article’s reference list. The title can stimulate the reader to go further or can create a negative impression sufficient for the article to be bypassed or dismissed. That authors should consider the most effective title when submitting an article for publication cannot be overemphasized.

A review of various biomedical journals reveals that the length of article titles can vary considerably. A basic science journal such as Cell or the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry may have lengthy titles with detailed names of genes or chemicals that are understood by a specialized readership. In these journals, the titles may be extensive and may include highly technical terms. However, long titles may be difficult to remember, and some publishing literature suggests that articles with long titles are downloaded less often than those with shorter titles.

Shorter titles are preferred for journals with a diverse readership across different disciplines in contrast to the convention often seen with specialty journals. A high-impact medical journal such as the New England Journal of Medicine usually has titles no longer than 12–15 words and often much shorter. The literature on biomedical publishing and discussions among journal editors and publishers indicate that relatively short titles are preferred for journals like Pharmacotherapy with a broad readership. A psychology is attached to brevity that captures attention. Whether in a literature search or a reference list, shorter titles are read more easily.

An ideal title summarizes the article’s main content or message. The title should not contain unnecessary words such as “A study of” or “The results from,” but should be precise without being terse. To include “Some reflections on” in the title of the present commentary would be accurate but would contribute no meaningful insight to the ensuing content. Witty or frivolous titles that include oblique references to classic literature or popular culture such as “to treat or not to treat” or “you can’t always heal what you want” should be reserved for editorials or commentaries, not used for research reports and reviews. The best title indicates the article’s content with sufficient detail to attract the attention of potential readers but with reasonable brevity.

The peer review process at Pharmacotherapy for submitted manuscripts includes an evaluation of whether a manuscript’s title is effective and appropriately conveys the content of the submission. A result of this editorial review are sometimes suggested changes in titles to attract a larger readership. Authors should carefully consider the wording of titles before submission and heed any suggestions after editorial review.