Reporting guidelines for clinical research designs emerged in the mid-1990s and have influenced various aspects of research articles, including titles, which have also been subject to changing uses with the growth of electronic database searching and efforts to reduce bias in literature searches. We aimed (1) to learn more about titles in clinical medicine today and (2) to develop an efficient, reliable way to study titles over time and on the fly—for quick application by authors, manuscript editors, translators and instructors. We compared content and form in titles from two general medical journals—the New England Journal of Medicine
(NEJM) and the British Medical Journal
—and two anesthesiology journals (the European Journal of Anaesthesiology
); we also analyzed the inter-rater reliability of our coding. Significant content differences were found in the frequencies of mentions of methods, results (between general and subspecialty titles), and geographic setting; phrasing differences were found in the prevalence of full-sentence and compound titles (and their punctuation). NEJM titles were significantly shorter, and this journal differed consistently on several features. We conclude that authors must learn to efficiently survey titles for form and content patterns when preparing manuscripts to submit to unfamiliar journals or on resubmitting to a new journal after rejection.
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