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Titling of a Personal Narrative


The title of your personal narrative is as much a part of the essay as the words that follow it. Word for word, the title may in fact be the most important part of your composition: it is the first thing that your reader sees, and it sets the tone for everything that comes after it.

Hook the Reader

Good titles convince readers that they want to read the text that follows. Do not title your narrative “Personal Narrative,” or “Assignment 2.” Instead, give your narrative a title that raises questions in the reader’s mind. You do need to make your title a literal question to do this -- a title like “Redemption,” for example, would naturally cause a reader to wonder about the content that follows. Use your own response as a guide: If you would read the essay after reading the title, it's a good start.

Connect to the Topic

Your title gives the reader a clear idea of the topic of your narrative. Don’t bait and switch; if your title makes readers think your narrative is about one thing and the narrative turns out to be about something altogether different, your readers will feel cheated. Do not, however, give away everything that happens during your narrative, or the ending; maintain some surprise for your readers, so that they get something more out of reading the narrative than they could have guessed from the title.

Set a Tone

Titles do not work on the level of straightforward, factual information alone; the best titles also set a tone for the narrative that follows. Check what tone the title sets, and whether that tone is appropriate for your narrative. The title “Sadness” might be appropriate for a narrative about the last time you spoke with your grandmother before she passed away, whereas the title “Bad Mood” would seem too trivial, and “Eternal Sadness” is too melodramatic.

Compound Titles

A compound title is a title that consists of an evocative main title followed by a more straightforwardly descriptive subtitle. For example, “Redemption: How I Survived Summer Camp” as a main title suggests an uplifting or heroic tone. The subtitle, after the colon, gives us information about the topic of surviving summer camp. The contrast between the “heroic” tone of the main title, and the more mundane topic of summer camp revealed in the subtitle, works to hook the reader as readers want to know how the dissimilar parts work together.

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Adam Jefferys has been writing since 2007. He teaches college writing and literature, and has tutored students in ESL. He holds a Masters of Fine Arts in creative writing, and is currently completing a PhD in English Studies.

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