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How to Title a College Essay

by Andrew Aarons

If you think college students dread the end of the semester, try talking to their professors. When the student’s work ends, the professor’s begins: grading. Lots and lots of grading. To make sure that your essay doesn’t get lost in the towering stack of papers on a desk, choose a good title for it. It’s the first thing your professor will read (and, given how many papers he has to grade, it may be the last thing he reads carefully).

Grab the Reader’s Interest

If anything about an essay should grab attention, it’s the title. To set yours apart from that of every other college student, make it interesting. Try using a quotation as the first part of the title, possibly followed by a colon, after which you can clarify the topic. Another option is to use a relevant and famous cinematic, theatrical, or musical reference. Puns and alliteration are also great ways to make your essay title look a bit more creative than most.

Clearly State the Topic

The title should be interesting, but interesting doesn’t mean confusing. The title shouldn’t be so enigmatic that it leaves your reader guessing as to what your essay is about. For example, if your essay is about birds, don’t make a reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s film of that name without clarifying the subject of your essay.

Suggest the Argument

Readers don't just want to know what you’re talking about; they want to have some idea how you’ll be talking about it. For instance, if your essay supports the core principles of liberalism, the phrase “A Defense of Liberalism” is preferable to “On Liberalism.” Your title is the perfect place to introduce not only the issue at hand, but also your stance on it.

Limit the Length

While the essay title should suggest the argument, it should not expound on the argument in great depth. A title is not an introductory paragraph: Make sure that it isn’t as long as one. To keep the title brief but also indicative of your argument, state the central tenet of your essay, rather than multiple facets of your logic. There will be plenty of space to clarify and defend your position in the pages that follow; the first page should only introduce it.

About the Author

Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.

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