In writing one article, I came across situation where my section title has one long word which I wanted to use with acronym later on. Now should I put acronym in section title or repeat word in text and write acronym there ? Take a following example for illustration...

Option 1

Section 1: Effect of Very Long Word (VLW) in section title

It is seen that VLW used in article sections are confusing part.

Option 2

Section 1: Effect of Very Long Word in section title

It is seen that Very Long Word (VLW) used in article sections are confusing part.

Which one is legal or appropriate in scientific writing ?

  • 7
    I am not sure that any law deals with acronyms in section title. But IMO the second option is the best way.
    – user9646
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 11:41
  • The answer is it depends. There are no general rules. What is the real title?
    – Louic
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 13:47

3 Answers 3


You should not use the acronym in the title, unless it stands alone and is very, very well-known. Otherwise it looks ugly and some journals have policies against it.

Define it the first time it is used in the abstract and in the introduction/main text. You should also include it in the nomenclature if there is one.


A third option:

Section 1: Effect of VLW

It is seen that Very Long Word (VLW) used in article sections are confusing part.

This is useful if VLW is truly very long, and messes up your titles, and you can trust most people have at least heard of it, and will have a clue of what you are talking about. Placing the full version next to it makes it discoverable.

Note that the operating distinction is "will have a clue", reading the title should give the reader a quick idea of what it is about.

If the acronym is not well known enough, use the full word, and assume people will skip titles when they read the article in detail.


Use common sense and don't overthink it. People are way too strict in scientific writing, and not always for good reasons.

The purpose of the title is to describe (in sufficient detail) what the article is about: for potential readers, but also for search algorithms (eg. Google). So the title should contain the keywords people are likely to look for, as well as describe clearly what is actually in the article. If you like marketing (I don't) you could also say: the title should encourage people to go and read the article.

In my field (biophysics) everybody knows what NMR is and it is unnecessary to write "Nuclear Magnetic Resonance" in the title: it usually makes the title less clear, and everybody will search for NMR when they are looking for the subject. However, sometimes journals forbid the use of acronyms in titles, and at the same time impose a character or word limit. If you are dealing with one of those there is not much you can do. Otherwise: PLEASE use the acronym if it leads to a better title.

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