Purpose and importance of essay title
An essay title bears great importance which is why a wrong headline choice can make or break the quality of the paper you submit. Why? The reason is simple, the title you choose has to intrigue your professor or other readers, make them want to start reading the whole thing to find out what you wrote and how you developed an argument (especially important for argumentative essay). That is why the words you use and how you craft a title is vital to the success of the entire work. While it is easy to assume that the text itself is the only thing that matters, to get positive feedback and a good grade, every part of your paper plays a big role.
The title is, in fact, the first thing your professor, client, or other readers see and your job is to get the “This seems very interesting” reaction, rather than “Oh God, this will be boring.”
Choosing a title that incents people to read your essay because they’re curious and want to find out more, also allows you to find a fertile ground to showcase your knowledge, wisdom, and writing skills at the same time. This is particularly important for freelance writers whose success depends on the number of people who open and read their essays, articles, and so on.
What are the qualities of good essay title
Before you start writing a title for your essay, it is always useful to know more about qualities that every headline should have. When you are aware of all characteristics of good titles, you’re bound to make wise decisions and complete this part of essay writing process successfully.
Since you’re, probably, wondering about the most important qualities the title of your paper should have, here they are:
- Eye-catching – well, this is obvious. Think about it; do you prefer reading content or academic papers with boring titles or you’re more inclined to opt for something with interesting, eye-catching deadline?
- Believable – most students and freelance writers make mistakes by trying to make their titles catchy in such a way they stray away from the truth, thus making the headline inaccurate or a complete, blatant lie. Nothing will anger your professor like a title that doesn’t deliver
- Easy to read – nobody likes complicated and difficult-to-understand titles, not even your professor. Stay away from strange phrases, complicated structures, even some uncommon fonts when writing your headline
- Active voice – if your title contains verbs, always make sure they’re in active, rather than passive voice. For instance, instead of Is regression of society caused by celebrity culture, you should write How does celebrity culture contribute to the regression of society?
- Brief – whenever you can, make an essay title brief. Long headlines are confusing and don’t demonstrate your skills for concise writing
- Accurate – regardless of the topic or niche and under no circumstances should you ever write an inaccurate essay title. You should give your readers a clear idea of what they’re going to read in an essay. Never try to mislead, that can only harm the overall quality of essay and your professor will not appreciate it
What are the components of essay title?
Just like argumentative or some other types of essays have their outline formula you can use to write a high-quality paper, building your title has its own formula too. Below are the main components of your essay’s title:
- A catchy hook – introduces the paper in a creative way
- Topic keywords – the “what” of your essay. This component identifies concepts you’ll be exploring
- Focus keywords – the “where/when” of your essay. Together with topic keywords, these are vital for your headline and provide more info that make it professional
Example: Buy Me a Date: Consumerization and Theories of Social Interaction in 21st Century Online Dating Sites
- Catchy hook – buy me a date
- Topic keywords – consumerism, social interaction, dating
- Focus keywords – 21st century
How to create essay title
Now that you know the importance of essay titles and qualities they should have, it’s time to learn how to create them. If you’re struggling with the essay title, don’t feel bad about yourself. Even the most prolific writers experience a writer’s block when it comes to choosing an ideal headline, from time to time. The writer’s block isn’t the issue here, it matters how you overcome it and create the title. Here are a few ideas that you’ll find useful.
Write essay first, title last
It may seem logical to you to create the title first and then write your essay, but doing the opposite can be more beneficial. In fact, most authors never start with the title. Of course, you may have some working headline in mind and it allows you to focus, develop an argument, and so on. But, writing your paper first will give you a clear idea of what to use in your title. As you write and then reread your essay, you’ll know what to say in the title and intrigue your reader. You’ll experience your “Aha, I’ll write this” moment.
Another benefit of creating title last is that you won’t waste too much time. It is not uncommon for students to spend hours just on figuring out the proper title for their essay. That’s the time you could have spent on research, creating an outline, or writing itself.
Use your thesis
Here is yet another reason to leave the title for last. Good titles offer your reader (or more of them) the reason for reading your paper. Therefore, the best place to find that reason is the thesis statement you’ve already written in the introduction. Try working the thesis statement, or at least, a part of it into a title.
Let’s say your thesis statement is this: “The American colonies rebelled against Great Britain because they were tired of being taxed, and they resented British military presence in their lives and homes."
To create a title, you may use alliteration “Tired of Taxes and Troops” or you can opt for “Rebellion of American Colonies against British Rule: Taxes, Troops, and other factors”
Use popular phrases and clichés you can re-work
Popular catchphrases that apply to the essay&39;s topic make eye-catching titles too, particularly when the phrase is amusing or creates an interesting pun. Besides popular phrases, you can also go for clichés and make some tweaks to re-work and adapt them to the topic of your essay and title itself. For instance: “Fit to be tried: The battle over gay marriage in the courts".
Of course, the tone of your essay plays an important role in creating a perfect title. If writing about a serious topic, then don’t be witty, silly, or off-the-wall with your headline. If your essay is a personal statement and even contains some anecdote, then you can go for a witty, yet intelligent title. Always make sure the tone of title and essay match. Bear in mind that even in witty titles, you should avoid using jargon. Also, don’t use abbreviations in your headlines as well.
Use quote or central idea
This isn’t a general rule, but it comes handy when applicable. Your title can feature a quote or a portion of it about the specific essay topic you’re writing about. If appropriate and relevant to the subject, even a part of song lyric can serve the same purpose. In instances when your essay is about a book, you can take a fragment of a thought-provoking quote from the book. For example: “Toil and trouble: Murder and intrigue in Macbeth".
Sum up your essay in THREE WORDS
This is a useful technique to create essay titles; all you have to do is, to sum up your entire essay or a thesis statement in three words and use them to build the headline, put a colon and then insert what your essay is all about.
The success of your essay doesn’t only depend on the argument you develop, research you do, the title matters as well. Most students struggle to find an ideal headline, but with a few easy tips and tricks from this post, you can forget about frustrations, save some time, and create a catchy and informative headline to intrigue readers.
Writing the title takes just a fraction of the time you need to put down your work on paper. Nonetheless, this starting point is very important one, because it may influence the impact of your work and the number of readers that it will attract. With the increasing digitalization of research, more and more people are using abstract databases to find articles relevant to their work. That’s why, if you want your article to come up in the search results, you should make sure that its title is a good summary of your work and that it addresses the right audience. How can you do this? Here is a step-by-step guide with some useful tips.
Start with a draft
Writing a paper can be a lengthy process that may take anything from a few days to several months. During this time, it is natural to decide to change some aspects of your paper or to come up with new ideas that you haven’t thought of before. That’s why, it’s a good idea to start with a draft title in the beginning and then focus on writing the rest of the paper. If you come up with a good idea in the meanwhile, just write it down and continue with your work. Once you are ready with the whole text, you can return to the title and decide on the final version. In some cases, this strategy can make a huge difference because you may get so distracted from all the editing and rewriting that you may simply forget to make changes to the title as well.
Choose what type you want to use
Titles of journal articles come in a variety of ways and you probably have encountered most of them. For example, Hartley (2008) lists as many as 13 different types but for the sake of clarity we can summarize the most common formats in just three types (Jamali & Nikzad, 2011):
- Declarative titles – state the main findings or conclusions (e.g. ‘A three-month weight loss program increases self-esteem in adolescent girls’)
- Descriptive titles – describe the subject of the article but do not reveal the main conclusions (e.g. ‘The effects of family support on patients with dementia’).
- Interrogative titles –introduce the subject in the form of a question (e.g. ‘Does cognitive training improve performance on pattern recognition tasks?’)
Each of these three types is useful and you should choose a format depending on what kind of information you want to convey to your audience. Declarative titles are generally used in research articles and they convey the largest amount of information. They are also good if you want to emphasize the technical side of the research you have carried out. Interrogative titles, on the other hand, are less common and they are more suitable for literature review articles. But out of the three, descriptive titles seem to be most common type in journals (Jamali & Nikzad, 2011).
How to formulate your title?
Here are a few tips that can help you avoid some of the most common mistakes when writing titles:
- Follow the guidelines of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2009). The manual recommends simplicity and the use of concise statements when formulating your title. Moreover, words that carry little or no meaning should be avoided as they increase the overall length and may mislead indexing services.
- Avoid titles that are too long. The recommended length of a title is no more than 12 words (APA, 2009). Longer titles can be more difficult to remember and, as Jamali and Nikzad (2011) found, articles with longer titles are downloaded slightly less than those with shorter titles (at least in biological sciences).
- You can sometimes use a colon to add additional information to the title, such as the methodology that was used (e.g., ‘Brain activation during perception of face-like stimuli: A fMRI study’). However, using a very long subtitle can sometimes be cumbersome and counterproductive (e.g., ‘Self-esteem: Can it improve interpersonal relationships among community-dwelling adults in North America?). In such cases, you can try to rewrite the title without the colon and see if any crucial information is lost (Hays, 2010).
- Do not use acronyms in the title without spelling them out (Hartley, 2012). Readers who are not familiar with their meaning may simply skip your article even though it’s relevant to their search.
- Irony, puns, and humor in the title may help you attract more readers but they should be avoided most of the time (Hartley, 2008). The problem with them is that they may not be understood by readers who are not native speakers and they also tend to be culture-specific. Moreover, your article will probably appear less often in the search results if you decide to the replace the words carrying the main meaning with a humorous phrase.
Write a few variants
Take the time to write a few possible titles and to experiment using different types or alternative formulations (Hays, 2010). In this way, you will be able to analyze how they would function in reality and possibly generate some new ideas. Sometimes, just by looking at different variants, you can come up with a better idea that combines the best aspects of two or more tentative titles. Once you’re ready with the generation of ideas, just pick the best variant and put it in the place of the draft title.
If you like this post, you can also check out our tips for writing a good abstract.
American Psychological Association. (2009). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington DC: Author.
Hartley, J. (2008). Academic writing and publishing: A practical guidebook. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Hartley, J. (2012). New ways of making academic articles easier to read. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 12(1), 143-160.
Hays, J. C. (2010). Eight recommendations for writing titles of scientific manuscripts. Public Health Nursing, 27(2), 101-103. doi: 10.1111/j.1525-1446.2010.00832.x
Jamali, H. R., & Nikzad, M. (2011). Article title type and its relation with the number of downloads and citations. Scientometrics, 88(2), 653–661. doi: 10.1007/s11192-011-0412-z
Martin Vasilev is an Editor in JEPS. He is a final year undergraduate student of psychology at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria, and the author of some of the most popular posts at the JEPS Bulletin (see for example, his post on writing literature reviews, which was reprinted in the MBA Edge, a magazine for Malaysian prospective postgraduate students).
Martin Vasilev is a final year undergraduate student of Psychology at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria, and the author of some of the most popular posts on JEPS Bulletin (see for example, his post on the most common mistakes in APA style was the most read in the JEPS Bulletin in 2013 and his post on writing literature reviews, which was reprinted in the MBA Edge, a magazine for prospective postgraduate students in Malaysia)