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What makes an effective lay title for a clinical trial?


  • Recent study reveals that lay titles of clinical trials often lack essential information, include too many technical terms, and might be misleading to readers.
  • Optimising lay titles is important to improve public understanding of clinical trials and increase patient participation.

Lay titles of clinical trials are instrumental in attracting the attention of patients, caretakers, and healthcare professionals, and help determine whether readers will seek further information about a trial. However, crafting a title that is concise, informative, accurate, and understandable to the target audience is not an easy task, as demonstrated in a recent study.

Dr Leonie Leithold and colleagues examined the lay titles of 74 industry-sponsored clinical trials registered on in 2021. The titles were evaluated on the following criteria:

  • inclusion of 4 recommended elements: target population, condition evaluated, treatments studied, and trial’s aim
  • presence of technical terms
  • overall adequacy and informativeness.

The results, published in EMWA’s journal, Medical Writing, highlighted several shortcomings of the assessed lay titles:

  • 72% did not include all recommended elements, compromising their ability to convey essential trial information.
  • 73% contained specialist language, making them less meaningful to potential trial participants.
  • 51% were deemed inadequate, indicating a failure to effectively inform readers.

The authors noted that although sentence length is an important consideration in lay writing, placing too much focus on brevity in titles might make them less informative. This was illustrated by the finding that only a tenth of short titles (<100 characters) in the sample included all recommended elements.

51% of the assessed lay titles were deemed inadequate, indicating a failure to effectively inform readers.

The use of trial acronyms can facilitate communication about a trial and make it more memorable to readers. Lay titles that contained a trial acronym tended to be longer, include more recommended elements, use fewer technical expressions, and be more likely to be assessed as adequate compared with their acronym-free counterparts. However, the authors cautioned against the use of acronyms that imply a favourable trial outcome, or evoke positive imagery, to avoid misleading the reader about potential benefits of a treatment or influencing their decision to participate in a trial.

Leithold et al encourage industry sponsors to invest more effort in creating effective lay titles to facilitate public understanding of clinical trials and drive participation. We look forward to seeing how this might contribute to advancing clinical development and, ultimately, patient care.


What aspect of developing a lay title do you think would be the most challenging?

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