Don’t you love the feeling of freshly printed paper, the moment your work is done and all the nights spent toiling in front of a laptop screen searching for the perfect words are over? I do, too. But have you ever been looking at your beautiful creation of words and seen a glaring label at the top of the page—Title? Your triumph evaporates as you realize you’ll have to search your already tired brain for the perfect title.
Coming up with a title is often one of the hardest parts of writing a paper, at least for me. However, it is one of the most important parts of the writing process. A title gives your readers their first impression of the text and helps them decide if they want to read what you’ve written. Before you give up and call your well-crafted masterpiece “Argument Essay #2,” try a few of these techniques to see if you can’t come up with something better.
A title can be written whenever inspiration strikes, but it is often saved until the end of the writing process so it can reflect the entire piece. The first step toward answering the question, “What do I call this?” is to identify what type of writing you are doing. Scientific writing usually requires a less cutesy, more matter-of-fact title, something like “The Mating Habits of Jackrabbits in North America.” However, if you were to write a personal narrative about catching a jackrabbit, you would want to use a more creative title, such as “Hop.” If you are feeling adventurous, you can even combine these approaches by using a subtitle, something like “Hop: The Mating Habits of Jackrabbits in North America.”
If you can’t figure out what to do, start by looking at what you’ve already written. Is there an image that stands out, one that is important to the text? Nathaniel Hawthorne used this technique when he titled The Scarlet Letter. It worked, and the book is still a bestseller. You could also title your work after a main character. A lot of authors do this, from Mary Shelley in Frankenstein to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
If you sort of have a title, but it’s kind of weak, try taking out the word “the.” Compare these two possible titles for a story about a group of friends exploring a dark, creepy cave: “The Flashlight” or “Flashlight.” The second title has more of a punch, doesn’t it?
If all else fails, go back through your essay or short story and pull out a phrase you like. I used that technique for this blog post. The phrase “What should I call this?” is in the third paragraph. I have found this technique very useful throughout college, especially when I’m struggling with writer’s block. If you get stuck, remember that you may have already written the perfect title. You just have to find it.