Teaching Titles

My article "A Rhetoric of Titles: Eighteen Forms for Student Writers" appears in Pedagogy 14.2. Here is a shortened version of that piece, a copy of the handout I give students when we first begin writing titles.

Ineffective Titles

Ineffective titles don’t prepare readers for what the paper will cover. Imagine you are writing a paper on Romeo and Juliet. If you simply name your paper after the work you analyze, a reader could expect to read the full text of Romeo and Juliet, not a literary analysis of Romeo and Juliet. If you refer only to abstract themes without naming the work(s) you analyze, a reader could expect a treatise on the theme of “love” through all time. Finally, titling your paper as an analysis of Romeo and Juliet suggests that you will cover all the aspects of the play as opposed to honing in on a few critical ideas.

1. Titling your paper only after the work you analyze. 2. Titling your paper only after a broad theme you analyze. 3. Titling your paper as an analysis of the text.
Romeo and Juliet
Love and Death
Analysis of Romeo and Juliet

Effective Titles

While ineffective titles often use just one strategy above, effective titles build on all three. They name the text and/or author you address, demonstrate that you are analyzing a text, and label the topics within your discussion. Students who craft strong titles often wait until they have finished writing the paper so that they adequately describe the content of the whole. Successful titles draw interest and describe information, managing expectations by forecasting the topic(s) the paper addresses while exciting an audience to read the material. In short, they deliver an engaging preview.

Effective titles are informative and catchy.
Effective titles often use a well-placed colon.
Effective titles often follow conventional strategies.

Conventional Strategies for Titles

1. Incorporate an appropriate quote from the text you analyze.
 “She is a Creature Designed for Reading”: Narrative Intimacy in Young Adult Fiction
“Digital Narcissism is a Narcotic”: A Keen Analysis of the Dangers of Facebook

2. Play on a term that has multiple meanings.
No-Man’s-Land: Gender and Violence in Tim O’Brien’s “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”
Telling it Straight: Christianity and Fallacy in James Dobson’s Critique of Same Sex Marriage

3. Use parallel structure.
Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare’s Plays
Destroying Discourse and Constructing Masculinity in the Arcipreste de Talavera

4. List words in a series that name the elements you examine.
Money, Love, and Aspiration in The Great Gatsby
An Archive of Shame: Gender, Embodiment, and Citizenship in Contemporary American Culture

5. Use a related cliché or commonly recognized phrase in its original form or in a variation.
Make Love, Not Warcraft: Virtual Worlds and Utopia
The Renaissance: (Paradigm) Shift Happens 

6. Craft a probing question that describes the debate.
Is Nick an Unreliable Narrator? Narrative Voice in The Great Gatsby
What Should Colleges Teach?

7. Juxtapose items that describe the debate.
Sinner or Saint? Anti-Hero as Christ Figure in the American Novel of the 1960s
Exotic Fable or Stalinist Allegory? Taking Another Look at Shaw’s The Simpleton

8. Incorporate a fitting allusion (e.g. songs, fables, literature).
Children of the Corn: America’s Favorite Cash Crop and Where To Find It (Hint: Everywhere)
“We Don’t Need No Education”: Moore’s Critique of American Politics in “Idiot Nation”

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