How to Choose a Title for an Essay

Writing guide
Posted on July 24, 2014

There is no doubt that the title is a very important part of a scientific work or a work of art, whether it is a novel, a song, or a dissertation. The first component people notice is the title. It may be short, only consisting of one or two words, but it definitely says something important to potential readers, viewers, or listeners.

When people have to write an essay, a typical situation looks like this: the student comes up with an idea, narrows the topic, then writes a title, and then begins writing the paper. This may work pretty well if you do everything in that order. However, you might try choosing a title after you finish writing the essay. That way you will definitely know what your essay is all about, what the key points in your work are, and what you should emphasize in your title to draw the readers’ attention to your work. Did you know that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak didn’t have a name for their company when they founded what is now called “Apple?” They actually came up with the name later. The same can be applied to your essay. Plan what to write and how to write it first, not what to call it. By the way, you can choose a working title for your essay and then change it later as you think of new ideas or a different aspect of the problem. Choosing a title that suits your essay best is the finishing touch to your work.

The major challenge in developing a title for your essay is that you have to express the theme of the essay in a limited number of words. There are several strategies you can employ to develop a great title. The first one is traditional. We can call it descriptive since it simply describes the main theme of your essay. An example is “Deforestation in Brazil.” The reader instantly knows that the essay is about deforestation in Brazil. However, this is really not descriptive enough. What about deforestation in Brazil? Are you going to discuss how it is done, or why it is done? Are you going to argue that it should be done or that it should not be done? You have given a topic in your title, but you have not indicated the opinion to be expressed on that topic. Instead, you might title your paper, “Deforestation in Brazil: A Travesty.”

Now, the reader is set to discover what your thoughts are on the deforestation in Brazil. You can also use an intriguing title to make readers guess about the topic of an essay, forcing them to read on to find out. You can omit some words, use synonyms, or replace the exact term with a more general one. For example, you can change “The Inventions of Thomas Edison” to “The Man Who Changed the World.” It sounds more intriguing, doesn’t it? Another way to create interest and intrigue is to use a question as your title. Well-educated people tend to be very analytical, trying to find all the answers to questions they encounter. If your title is “Can Bacteria Survive in Space?” chances are that your audience will read your essay to find the answer to that question.

Choose your title wisely; don’t worry if developing one takes more time than you expected. Jot down all your ideas for a title, eliminate the ones that definitely will not work, and choose the one you think is the best match for your essay.

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