Title Troubles

By February 13, 2013Writing about Writing

Titles can make or break a paper, which is funny because the last thing many of us do when writing a paper is come up with a title. Some of us go the academic, 2 part route separating each phrase with a colon. Some of us come up with something short and clever. Some titles explicitly state what a paper is about, others are more creative and vague. Some titles are good, and some titles are just plain bad.

Coming up with a title can be the hardest part of writing anything. After you spend all that time, and all your hard work, you just stare at the paper and ask, “What in the world am I going to call you?” If you go the literary fiction route, you pick an obscure phrase or name from what you’ve written and use that as a title. If you go the popular fiction, newspaper or magazine route, you pick a pun or use wordplay for your title, something like “An Innocent, a Broad” playing off Mark Twain’s book “Then Innocents Abroad.” If you go the academic route, you use a descriptive 2 part title, like “Directive vs. Non-directive Tutoring: How to Determine a Writer’s Needs in the Writing Center”.

It can be so tempting to use song lyrics, references to well known novels, or puns as titles for papers, books and articles but this does not always work out for the better. For one, it shows, to an extent, a lack of originality and usually end up being cliche. It can also make a title seem ridiculous. In order to write a title that doesn’t do this, try to think of the point of what you are writing is, no matter what form you’re writing in. How can you put this into words, creatively or more academically? For academic papers, I tend to get more specific in my titles, but for my short stories I tend to get more creative, focusing my titles on a prevalent image that appears throughout. Like every other part of writing, try to figure out what works best for you.