How to Find an Effective Title for My Essays
Some stages of the writing process are more difficult than others, but for many, the biggest challenge is creating an effective title. Your title must clarify the topic of the essay without giving away too much of the main point. It should also give a specific audience a reason to read the essay. This is a big job for a few words, so expect to write several drafts before you settle on the final title.
Step One: Finish the Essay
Although some writers are naturals at titling their essays even in the early stages, others need more time to work out a title. It often helps to wait until the essay is drafted -- and sometimes revised and edited -- before attempting to write the title. The reason for this is you will already have worked out exactly what you want to communicate to your audience, so you will have already thought the topic through thoroughly enough to introduce it. Before attempting to draft a title, read through your essay again to refresh your memory. Look for interesting turns of phrase in your introduction and conclusion that may make an interesting title and jot them down.
Step Two: Describe the Topic in Brief
A title's most important job is to introduce the basic topic in as few words as possible. Poetic words and interesting turns of phrase are useful, but are not usually not enough to convey what the essay is really about. Above all else, your title must be relevant. Try to describe the broad topic of your essay in as few words as possible. For instance, if your essay analyzes symbolic elements relating to death in William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily," you would simply write Death Symbolism in "A Rose for Emily." You now have a base on which to build.
Step Three: Consider Your Audience
The key to making a title interesting is to consider what your audience may want to hear. Consider who your audience is -- are they academics, or professionals? Are they teenagers, or parents? Are they literary scholars, or scientists? This is important to consider because what works for one group may not work on another. For example, a title that induces worry about children's literacy rates may not interest teens, whereas a title that includes a joke may turn away scholars. Try to match the tone of your title to your essay.
Step Four: Revise for Relevance, Tone and Grammar
Just like any other part of your essay, your title should be revised and edited before your audience sees it. Check to make sure that your title follows basic grammar and punctuation rules. Unless it is a question, your title should not be a full sentence. When you think you have an effective title, ask a peer to read it and predict what kind of essay will follow. If your peer misunderstands the topic or predicts an essay that doesn't match the tone you have set in your title, then you may have to revise it.
Jamie Trusty is based in Nashville, Tenn., and has been teaching and writing for more than five years. Her concentrations are non-fiction essays, research-based argumentative writing, literary analyses and film reviews. She holds a Master of Arts in English from Middle Tennessee State University. Although Trusty focuses on publishing more "serious" work, her favorite thing to write is Twin Peaks fan fiction.