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Title

It's easy to read a book or an essay without thinking much about its title. The title just identifies the work and explains its contents. In reality, choosing a title involves lots of work and attention. As brief as it is, the title is responsible for communicating the entire text's tone, main idea, and genre.

What is the Meaning of a Title?

Learning what makes a good title starts with the basics—the very basics.

A title is a single line of text that introduces and summarizes a piece of writing.

Coming up with a good title is an exciting challenge. How do you summarize a text in as few words as possible while informing the reader of its contents? Sometimes one line isn't enough, and the title needs a little more explanation. That's where the subtitle comes in.

A subtitle is a second (often more detailed) title that appears after the main title.

Here's an example of a title and subtitle:

Gulliver's Travels: Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World

This book by Jonathan Swift is primarily known by its main title: Gulliver's Travels (1726). Its subtitle is a more descriptive alternate title: Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World.

What is the Importance of a Title?

The title is the first element of a text that the reader sees. Its job is to attract the target audience's attention and inform them about the text's contents.

Title, Target with Arrow Illustration, StudySmarterA text's title reaches out to the target audience. Flaticon.

The target audience is the group of people a written work is intended for.

Different kinds of writing are meant to reach different groups of people. For example:

Neurologist Oliver Sacks wrote articles for the New Yorker Magazine, describing his patients' stories and neurological phenomena. These are some of his article titles:

"Face-Blind: Why are Some of Us Terrible at Recognizing Faces?"

"An Anthropologist on Mars"

Another famous neurologist, Alastair Buchan, has written several articles for medical journals. This is one of his article titles:

"Cellular and Molecular Determinants of Stroke-Induced Changes in Subventricular Zone Cell Migration"

Oliver Sacks and Alastair Buchan were both doctors and worked in the same field. Their target audiences, though, were very different. Buchan writes for fellow neurology experts, while Sacks writes for non-experts. Their article titles reflect the various target audiences: Buchan's is purely informative, and Sacks' are clever and thought-provoking.

Essay Title Format

Before jumping into the content of an essay title, you need to keep the structure of a title in mind.

Capitalize major words. This includes the main nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that make up the majority of the title. You should also capitalize minor words (like prepositions, articles, and helping verbs) with four or more letters. In summary, capitalize:

  • The first word of the title.
  • The major words of the title.
  • Any minor words with four or more letters.

A title doesn't need to be a complete sentence. That means you don't have to write a title with a complete subject and predicate. You also don't have to end your title with a punctuation mark, like a period, question mark, or exclamation point.

A title should fit on one line of text. Your title should be short but informative and take up just one line. If you need to make your title longer, you can add a subtitle on the line below it.

What are Some Essay Title Ideas?

Oliver Sacks and Alastair Buchan used different title strategies to attract their target audiences. You can use these different strategies to brainstorm for your own essay titles. The strategies can be separated into three major categories: literal, thought-provoking, and fun.

Literal Strategies

A literal or technical title is meant to inform the audience. It explains what the text is about in a no-nonsense way. Here are some examples:

"Reflections on Gandhi"1

"The Fractal Geometry of Nature"2

These titles purely state what the essays are about. Literal titles like these are best for scholarly articles or other serious texts.

Thought-Provoking Strategies

A thought-provoking title is meant to catch the audience's attention. It's intended to make the audience stop and think. Here are some examples:

"What Kind of Creatures Are We?"3

"Temperament: The Idea that Solved Music's Greatest Riddle"4

"How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care)"5

These titles make sensational statements, ask questions, and use conversational wording. Titles like these are best for texts meant to be exciting and accessible to a general audience.

Funny Strategies

A funny title is meant to entertain or surprise the audience. It lets the audience know that the text will be fun and entertaining.

"Taming the Bicycle"

"The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody"

These titles by Mark Twain and Will Cuppy, respectively, are witty, unexpected, and sarcastic. Titles like these are best for texts with a tone that isn't very serious.

What are Some Examples of Essay Titles?

Try putting these title strategies into practice. Each example paragraph is a sample from Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own." Each essay should take one of these three titles:

  • "The Room is Reserved, But the Door is Locked: Persistent Gender Inequality in the Twenty-First Century"
  • "A Summary of 'A Room of One's Own' by Virginia Woolf"
  • "A Room of One's Own ... No Prunes Allowed"

In her 1929 essay "A Room of One's Own," British novelist and activist Virginia Woolf discusses the role of women in literature and academia. She describes her experience of a day on a university campus, denied access to the library and other scholarly resources because of her sex. She uses this experience to support her central idea: a physical space reserved for work and thought, or "a room of one's own," is necessary for a scholar—a space most women at the time were denied.

This paragraph introduces a general summary of "A Room of One's Own." The tone is knowledgeable and serious. A literal title would probably best suit this essay. The most literal title from the list of options is "A Summary of 'A Room of One's Own' by Virginia Woolf."

This following example takes a different tone:

Virginia Woolf's essay "A Room of One's Own" defines early 20th-century feminism in Great Britain. Her stream-of-consciousness writing style paints a chaotic picture onto the backdrop of women's exclusion from scholarly spaces. Major movements toward gender equality have taken place since Woolf's original writings. However, many of the obstacles Woolf describes as keeping women out of academic and professional spaces are still in place.

This paragraph introduces an essay that uses "A Room of One's Own" to comment on current gender inequality issues. The tone is serious, philosophical, and emotional. A thought-provoking title would best fit this essay. The best fit from the list of titles would be "The Room is Reserved, But the Door is Locked: Persistent Gender Inequality in the Twenty-First Century."

The last example focuses on another aspect of Woolf's essay:

Title, Fresh Prunes on a Table, StudySmarterVirginia Woolf and her extreme distaste for prunes. Flaticon.

Virginia Woolf's essay "A Room of One's Own" is famous for its brutally honest commentary on the exclusion of women from academic spaces. Rarely discussed, though, is her equally brutal criticism of another toxic subject: prunes. Page 10 of the essay features a scathing review of the fruit: "if anyone complains that prunes ... are an uncharitable vegetable (fruit they are not), stringy as a miser's heart and exuding a fluid such as might run in miser's veins who have denied themselves wine and warmth for eighty years and yet not given to the poor, he should reflect that there are people whose charity embraces even the prune."

This paragraph doesn't discuss Woolf's feminist commentary but rather her dislike of prunes. The essay it introduces doesn't take itself very seriously. A funny title would fit this essay. The best option from the title list is "A Room of One's Own ... No Prunes Allowed.

Applying Essay Title Strategies

These tips can help you apply the three title creation strategies to your own writing.

Write the title at the end

After your essay is written, you can easily create a title that matches the essay's tone and main idea(s).

Keep the target audience in mind

How large and how specialized is your intended audience? Think of what a reader will think when they read the title.

Write out multiple titles, then choose the option that best fits your essay

Testing out multiple strategies can help you decide on a fitting title.

Title - Key takeaways

  • A title is a single line of text that introduces and summarizes a piece of writing.
  • A title's job is to attract the target audience's attention and inform them about the text's contents.
  • The target audience is the group of people a written work is intended for.
  • The strategies for creating a title can be separated into three major categories: literal, thought-provoking, and funny.
  • To choose the best title for your essay, write the title at the end, keep the target audience in mind, and write out multiple titles, choosing the option that best fits your essay.

1 George Orwell. Reflections on Gandhi. 1949.

2 Benoit Mandelbrot. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. 1980.

3 Noam Chomsky. What Kind of Creatures Are We? 2015.

4 Stuart Isacoff. Temperament: The Idea that Solved Music's Greatest Riddle. 2001.

5 Ross W. Duffin. How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care). 2006.

Frequently Asked Questions about Title

A title is a single line of text that introduces and summarizes a piece of writing.

A title's job is to attract the attention of the target audience and inform them about the text's contents

The strategies for creating a title can be separated into three major categories: literal, like The Fractal Geometry of Nature (Benoit Mandelbrot, 1980); thought-provoking, like What Kind of Creatures Are We? (Noam Chomsky, 2015); and funny, like Taming the Bicycle (Mark Twain, 1917).

To choose the best title for your essay, write the title at the end, keep the target audience in mind, and write out multiple titles, choosing the option that best fits your essay.

Choose a title for your essay that attracts the target audience. A literal title is best for scholarly articles aimed at experts and other serious texts; a thought-provoking title is best for texts that are meant to be interesting and accessible to a general audience; funny titles are best for texts for a general audience, with a tone that isn't very serious.

Final Title Quiz

Question

What is a title?

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Answer

A title is a single line of text that introduces and summarizes a piece of writing.

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Question

What is a subtitle?

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Answer

A subtitle is a second (often more detailed) title that appears after the main title.

Show question

Question

What is the purpose of a title?

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Answer

A title's job is to attract the attention of the target audience and inform them about the text's contents.

Show question

Question

What is a target audience?

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Answer

The target audience is the group of people a written work is intended for.

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Question

What are the three title creation strategies?

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Answer

The strategies for creating a title can be separated into three major categories: literal, thought-provoking, and funny.

Show question

Question

What kind of text best fits with a literal title?

Show answer

Answer

Literal titles are best for scholarly articles or other serious texts. They suit texts targeted at experts or serious settings.

Show question

Question

What kind of text best fits with a thought-provoking title?

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Answer

Thought-provoking titles are best for texts that are meant to be interesting and accessible to a general audience. They fit texts targeted at non-experts.

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Question

What kind of text best fits with a funny title?

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Answer

Funny titles are best for texts with a tone that isn't very serious. They fit texts targeted at a general audience.

Show question

Question

Is this title meant to be literal, thought-provoking, or funny?


The Responsibility of Intellectuals (Noam Chomsky, 1967)

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Answer

This title is most likely meant to be thought-provoking. Rather than clearly describing the contents of the essay, the title makes the audience wonder what the essay is about.

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Question

Is this title meant to be literal, thought-provoking, or funny?


The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (Monroe C. Beardsley, 1960)

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Answer

This title is most likely meant to be literal. It describes the contents of the book in a no-nonsense way. 

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Question

Is this title meant to be literal, thought-provoking, or funny?


"When Wurst comes to Wurscht: Variation and koiné formation in Texas German" (Journal of Linguistic Geography, Luke Lindemann, 2019)

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Answer

This title is most likely meant to be funny. The subtitle is more technical and literal, but the main title is a pun based on the phrase "when worse comes to worst."

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Question

Is this title meant to be literal, thought-provoking, or funny?


What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? (Frederick Douglass, 1852)

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Answer

This title is most likely meant to be thought-provoking. It poses a question that makes the audience stop and think.

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Question

What kind of title would best suit this introduction?


The piano sonatas of composer Ludwig Van Beethoven are notoriously virtuosic and difficult to play. As it turns out, though, some of the ornamental lines might be too difficult —on purpose. Beethoven intentionally wrote some of his piano music to be too hard to play, just to embarrass Viennese pianists he didn't like.

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Answer

Literal

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Question

What kind of title would best suit this introduction?


Formants, or highlighted overtones, distinguish vowel sounds. Formant 0 is the fundamental frequency, which determines the vowel's perceived pitch. Formant 1 changes depending on the height of the tongue, differentiating words like "pot" and "pit." Formant 2 changes depending on the frontness or backness of the tongue, differentiating words like "sheet" and "shoot."

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Answer

Literal

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Question

Mary is writing an essay about constellations. She titles it: “An Early History of the Constellations.” What title-creation strategy is she using?


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Answer

A literal strategy 


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John is writing an essay about what different religions say about life after death. He titles it: “What’s Waiting on the Other Side?” What title-creation strategy is he using?


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Answer

A thought-provoking strategy 


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Katie is writing an essay about the importance of self care in contemporary society. She titles it: “How to Care About Yourself in a World That Hates You.” What

title-creation strategy is she using?


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Answer

A funny strategy

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Question

Which of the following strategies can help writers come up with a title?


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Answer

Writing the title after the essay is written


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Question

True or False. Writers should consider their intended audience when crafting a title. 


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Answer

True


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Question

Lily is writing an article about three ways to make passive income. She titles it, “Three Ways to Earn Passive Income.” What title-creation strategy did she use?


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Answer

Literal


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