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The Editors' Notepad

The goal of this blog is to help EPIDEMIOLOGY authors produce papers that clearly and effectively communicate their science.

Friday, September 1, 2017

On Titles

More often than not, I will suggest edits to the title of an Epidemiology paper. I say suggest because there are few hard and fast requirements, and because framing the title is a central role of the author; I won’t challenge you on its overall content. That said, the journal has certain preferences and practices, and I would like to help you engage readers right up front if I see an opportunity to do so.

First, in contrast to some biomedical journals, we will challenge titles that give away results, if only to encourage readers to look at least as far as the abstract. The title should thus concisely frame the research question, not its conclusion.

An example of giving away results:

Sardine consumption is associated with postural hypotension in elderly penguins

On the other hand, framing the question looks like:

The association between sardine consumption and postural hypotension in elderly penguins

Speaking of conciseness, we would like titles to be 14 words or fewer. The simplest way to do this, when possible, is to drop the subtitle or the name of the study, though we understand some large studies require the name to be included. The length guideline may be at odds with our general impulse toward clarity if abbreviations are involved that need to be spelled out. I’m not sure what the answer is regarding abbreviations in titles, other than avoiding them.

The example above, plus a subtitle, brings it to 18 words:

The association between sardine consumption and postural hypotension in elderly penguins: A nested case-control study in the ANTARCTIC cohort

The subtitle, though, contains methodologic details that the author could consider saving for the abstract. Without the subtitle (the Framing the question example above), the title is only 11 words.

Titles for letters are a special case. The guidelines above apply to research letters (which include new data) and freestanding comments that don’t refer to a particular published article, so the author gets to write the title. Our title format for letters that do comment on a published article are of the form:

Re. Title of the Previously Published Article in Question

and the title of any response is, simply

The Authors Respond

A letter and its response will publish ahead of print at the same time, and then in sequence in the final version of the journal.


Further topics we’ve included for this space include causal language, the PubMed process, statements about ethical review, and abstracts. Please let us know if there are others you’d like to see. We think the comment section works, and we would love to hear from you.​