Research to guide the writing or critical editing and translation of titles in clinical medicine: emerging insights from a corpus of eight journals sampled in 2015 and 2017
Jane Marshall, Mary Ellen Kerans and Sergi Sabaté, Barcelona, Spain; Anne Murray, Barberà de la Conca, Spain
Titles have become longer and more informative in some clinical research journals in response to recent updates of reporting guidelines. Meanwhile, systematic reviewers are beginning to rely more heavily on article titles for screening the medical literature. In that context, there is potential for titles that differ substantially from journal expectations to negatively influence editors during the screening process. Therefore, authors, writing instructors, and language consultants would be wise to critically assess title substance and form. We have completed a two-part project describing current titling patterns in the four main English-language general medical journals (Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, British Medical Journal, and New England Journal of Medicine) plus four journals in two specialties (dermatology and anesthesiology) for contrast. All the journals are highly cited, hence considered leaders to be emulated.
This preliminary report will briefly review how we created our title corpus and coded content and style features; a complete description was published in 2016.1 We will then report the main differences found between general medicine and specialty medicine – where so many more of our editing and translation clients publish. An example is the inclusion of results almost exclusively in specialty journals. Some of our observations – such as highly different levels of compliance with recommendations to include research design in titles – have surprised us. We will also report prevalence rates for content and features that seem to be stable across most clinical journals and contribute to title richness. Finally, our data allow us to suggest where we can most expect to find differences between journals and, therefore, how to approach on-the-fly research to clarify titling patterns in unfamiliar journals.
We will conclude by introducing a brief handout listing evidence-based suggestions on title form and content that manuscript editors, translators or writing instructors can use or discuss with authors. The suggestions are also relevant to translators or copy editors who wish to avoid calquing the patterns of source languages when working for non-English language journals.
1 Kerans ME, Murray A, Sabatè S. Content and phrasing in titles of original research and review articles in 2015: range of practice in four clinical journals. Publications 2016, 4, 11; doi:10.3390/publications4020011.
Jane Marshall is a freelance medical translator and editor. Mary Ellen Kerans edits, translates, and does occasional genre research on language questions that are useful to answer for her clients and colleagues. Anne Murray is a freelance translator and editor mostly in medicine but also in pharmaceutics, general science, and a range of academic fields. Sergi Sabaté is an anesthesiologist, clinical researcher and statistician.