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6.7 Title of Your Essay

Coming up with a good title for your essay might seem difficult, but there are several techniques that can help. Although some writers start with a good title and write a paper to fit it, others (and probably most) worry about coming up with a good title after they’re finished with the draft. The advantage of waiting until the end to work on the title is that you know exactly what you’ve written.

Many academic writers prefer a two-part title structure separated by a colon. The “catchy” bit goes before the colon, whereas the latter part is a straightforward description of the paper. For example, “Cutting out the Cut and Paste: Why Schools Should Use Plagiarism Detection Software.”

Here are some tips for coming up with good titles:

  • Get inspiration from best-selling books or well-known essays, particularly those closely related to your topic (e.g., “Men are from Mars, Women are from Snickers: Candy Bars and the Obesity Epidemic.”)
  • Look through your paper and see if you can identify some “key words” or special phrases that might serve as part of a title (i.e., “Edit this Page: How Wikis Enable Collaborative Writing” or “The Blue Screen of Death: How to Respond to Technical Difficulties During a Presentation.”)
  • Consider poetic devices, such as repeating consonant sounds (e.g., “The Cost of Caring”).
  • Get inspiration from famous quotations or song lyrics (e.g., “I Shaved My Legs for This?: A Feminist Perspective on Country Music.”)

If you can’t come up with a good title right away, shut down your word processor and think about other things for a while. If you just can’t come up with anything clever, just remember that a clear and precise title is much better than none at all. A title like “The Use of Skull Imagery in Hamlet” may not sound profound, but at least the reader will know what the paper is about.

“When you get an idea, go and write. Don’t waste it in conversation.”

–Kenneth Koch


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Expression and Inquiry by Christopher Manning; Sally Pierce; and Melissa Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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