How to Title an Essay

How to Title an Essay

Writing the title of an essay can be one of the most challenging parts of the entire project. Luckily, there are lots of guidelines to help you title your essay in the most constructive way.

Read on to discover some basic information, along with a few tips, hints, and tricks for beginning your essay with the strongest possible title.

How and When to Choose an Essay Title

Choosing a title can end up being a challenging part of the writing process. It is recommended that the title be written after the work is complete (or close to it).

Of course, an outline and general idea of what you are writing will always help write an essay, but the actual word-for-word title should be decided upon after the piece is complete. There are two main reasons for this.

  • You have more time to think of a title
  • The specifics may shift during the process

Buy Yourself a Little More Time to Choose a Title

First of all, the ideas floating around in your head that will eventually become the finished body of work have more time to marinate. Phrases or catchy ideas will likely come and go, and you can jot down favorites as you write and create.

The words may flow more easily by the end of the essay, or you may have developed a killer tagline that can be incorporated into the title. If you choose the title at the beginning and refuse to alter it, you may miss out on a better opportunity.

Be Flexible with Your Titles

Secondly, your ideas may change. Suppose you’ve chosen a specific title before writing, and your paper takes a turn or even just a slightly different route. In that case, it can be difficult to rewire your thinking and completely change the existing title.

This works the other way around as well. If you are set on a rigid title from the beginning, it may limit your creative process.

Deciding on your essay’s polished title at the end of the process is the best way to tackle this challenge.

How to Decide What Belongs in Your Title

Titles are important for a variety of reasons. You want to grab your reader’s attention immediately so that you are chosen above other competing essays.

It is important to summarize key points immediately for readers looking for a specific result, like in academia.

It’s also vital that the title is simple and to-the-point, you don’t want to confuse readers.

There are various components you will want to highlight, depending on the purpose of your essay. These may include:

  • A hook
  • Key terms
  • The “W’s”: Who, What, When, Where, Why
  • Tone
  • SEO

We will go into these components in more detail below.

How to Hook a Potential Reader

It’s essential to catch the reader’s eye immediately, similar to how the beginning of a book chapter or paper will need to draw the reader in. Think of the title as a pre-hook to your initial essay.

This can be done by including something like a quote or a statistic. Rather than “Townsfolk Surprised by Large Snowfall”, try something like, “Enough Snow on Local Football Field to Build an Eiffel Tower-Sized Snowman”. Including imagery and interesting facts will grab a reader quickly.

It’s when incorporating statistics or interesting facts, they are accurate and related to the main idea of your essay. Misleading statistics are worse than no statistics at all.

Use Key Terms to Simplify the Title

Key terms are important in a title. You don’t want your essay titled around technology and its effects on society to veer off into favorite summer hobbies.

You also should avoid various unrelated jargon that will lose the reader’s interest.

Choosing a few key terms, two or three, that are repeated throughout the essay or summarizing the findings and main ideas is the best way to incorporate key phrases into your title and keep it on track.

You want to stay away from being too repetitive, so don’t choose exact phrases or terms that are present in your first couple of sentences.

It may be beneficial to make a list of “key terms” or common words you’re using as you write and keep them handy when developing your title. For example, if writing an article about recommended dental care, you may keep a list of terms such as:

  • Bristle softness
  • Brushing time
  • Dental visit
  • Toothpaste
  • Flossing
  • Cavities

These terms will likely be prevalent throughout the essay, so utilizing them in the title would be beneficial.

Key terms can also include things like the “who, what, when, where, why” of the article. These are explained in more detail below.

Incorporate the “Who” in your Title

If your essay is centered on something like:

  • An individual
  • A culture
  • A species

Including this basic fact in the title can help individuals find it more quickly and will draw the intended audience in.

Writing about “Human Head Shrinking Shamans in Peru” will beat out “Native Tribes of South America” in detail and interest to the reader.

If Your Essay is Centered on a “What,” Identify it Specifically

If your essay is focused on one thing, like:

  • A historical event
  • An interesting object
  • A common dilemma

It’s important to note those things in your title. “Top 5 Garden Plants” will pull in a very different audience than “The Top 5 Seeds to Plant to Save the Bees”. Make sure to include the main topic of your essay in the title.

Does the Essay Include a Location?

If your essay’s chief idea is based on a location, including things like:

  • Vacations
  • Historical site
  • Guides for Travel

It’s important to note the specific area. A “Guide for the Most Breathtaking Views in Costa Rica” will reach more of the intended audience than something titled “Coolest views” without a specific “where” added in.

How to Identify the Importance of Your Essay to Readers

It’s important to include a “why” if your essay is written and designed to do things like:

  • Help solve a problem
  • Shed light on a common misconception
  • Make a point

Argumentative essays and opinion pieces will find their specific niche as long as the title relates to the topic. It doesn’t have to give away your stance on the idea but must encircle the main idea.

For example, “Stealing is Bad” is not inaccurate, but it is a lame, bland essay title. Instead, use something like “The Merits of Theft: When Stealing is Okay.” This format is particularly useful when bringing an unpopular opinion to the forefront.

Again, you want to entice readers and draw them in. The only way to do that is to share what your essay is about and do that in the most intriguing way possible.

The Title of the Essay Sets the Tone for the Rest

The tone of the title is another often-overlooked aspect of a good title. If the essay is a lighthearted and informational piece, rather than an academic and professional one, the title should reflect that.

Readers who are looking for something fun will likely choose the essay based on the title. You want your title to draw in the right audience, and keeping a consistent tone will help.

Readers most likely do not want to pick up an article titled “The Tastiest Grillin’ Tips for Summer!” and then go on to read dry statistics and figures about the internal cooking temperature required to kill bacteria.

Set the tone for the reader with the title, make sure it aligns with the essay’s feel.

How to Format a Good Essay Title

The formatting of your essay title is nearly as vital as the title itself. Making sure the title appears as a title is important. This includes paying attention to things like:

  • Punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Length

The title should be at the beginning of the essay. It should be in a larger font than the rest of the essay, often centered on the page. It should not be longer than one line if at all possible.

In academia, sometimes scientific terms are lengthy, and this cannot be helped. In these cases, one and a half lines should be the maximum title length.

The title does not need to be:

  • Underlined
  • Bold
  • Highlighted
  • Different font

This is part of maintaining a good flow. Even the absolute best thought-out and designed title can be obnoxious if it is too jarring to the reader. The title should fit into the rest of the essay while still being clearly defined.

Things to Avoid When Writing an Essay Title

There are several things that should not ever be included in a good essay title. These are:

  • Self-description
  • General and generic phrases
  • Periods
  • Initials
  • Acronyms
  • Extensive punctuation

Avoid Self-Descriptions in an Essay Title

Authors write essays. Readers know that there is an author behind an essay, so it does not need to be pointed out.

It’s not necessary, or smart, to put your description into a title. “My History Paper on the 13 Chinese Dynasties” is an awkward title. “The Rise and Fall of Chinese Dynasties” is more succinct and distances the reader from the author in an appropriate way.

It’s okay to make it personal or personable, but titles should never be direct narrations.

Don’t Use Generic Phrases in an Essay Title

Try to avoid using generic phrases like “The Best…” “The Worst…” “Everyone Loves…” often, these words can be replaced with choices that are:

  • More detailed
  • More intriguing
  • More creative

Rather than “The Best House Plant to Have,” consider adding more detail, like “5 Helpful House Plants for Purifying the Air”, something with more detail and closer connection to your essay.

Periods Are Not Necessary for a Title

The only ending punctuation in a title should be a question mark if the title is framed as a question. Titles do not include periods or other final punctuation as expected in general sentences.

A period is a “full stop” and designed to create a pause. Titles do the opposite by pulling a reader in and guiding them into the essay. A designated “full stop” breaks up that flow.

Avoid Initials in Your Essay Title

Things like initials or roman numerals are best left out of a title.

Don’t Use Acronyms in a Title

Acronyms are a common and useful item to simplify your article, but you never want to introduce an acronym in the title. It should always first be spelled out, and then referenced as an acronym throughout the rest of the essay.

For example, leave out GPS in the title, “How Technology Gets Us from A to B,”  but reference it first as “Global Positioning System (GPS)” in your essay.

It’s good manners to explain acronyms immediately, even if you think they may (or should) be evident to your readers.

Don’t Overuse punctuation in an Essay Title

Titles should not include a lot of punctuation, as this makes them harder to read. You should stay away from things like dialogue in the title, or a list that includes many commas.

Colons or semicolons are an excellent way to conjoin two ideas into one title and emphasize them, so these are okay and often encouraged.

Stay away from too many of the following:

  • Hyphens
  • Apostrophes
  • Commas
  • Quotation marks

These can make a title look too “busy.” Consider this title, “When my Friend’s Professor’s Aide Asked ‘Where’d Y’all Get That Title?’: My Journey through a Blog Post”. It’s wordy, and all of the extra punctuation can be a bit distracting for readers who are looking for a succinct, engaging title.

How to Correctly Capitalize a Title

Capitalizing titles correctly can be a little bit tricky. All key words, nouns, verbs, and adjectives should be capitalized in a title.

The “small” words are less often capitalized unless directly following a semicolon or colon in the title or if they are the very first word in the title.

Lowercase words that do not need to be capitalized will almost always include:

  • Conjunctions
    • for, and, so, or, but, yet
  • Prepositions
    • of, in, beside
  • Articles
    • The, a/an
  • The “to” in infinitives
    • to think, to want, to be

When in doubt, there are handy online converters that seem to work well for title capitalization, based on the format required. You simply put in the formatting (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) and type the title. The result will have the correct capitalization.

How to Determine Ideal Title Length

The length of your title is another aspect to take into consideration. Nobody wants to read a title so long they are exhausted before beginning the article.

This may vary depending on the essay’s subject. An academic essay could have a lengthy title simply due to the subject matter and chemicals or health effects discussed throughout the paper.

For less-serious articles, shorter is better. You can often wrap up your title in a dozen or so words, while still including the key terms and a little bit of tone.

A title like “The Seven Best Places to Visit in New York for Dinner after 8 pm if You are Traveling on a Budget” is a mouthful. Condensing into “Budget-Friendly Late Night Eats in New York City” gets the same point across in fewer words.

Generally speaking, an average essay title should be between 10 and 12 words.

Still Stuck? Some More Ideas for Generating an Essay Title

There are a few tricks of the trade that many people have employed over the years to jog their brains into coming up with a title.

How to Increase Essay Title Ideas

Write a line about the main idea of your synthesis essay or an “opposite” title for practice. This can offer some insight into what point you are really trying to make.

You shouldn’t use this false title as a working title because it will not relate directly to the essay, but it’s often good for brainstorming.

Utilize Existing Resources to Help Develop a Title

Using an online or good old-fashioned paper thesaurus can expand your vocabulary with minimal work. This is a perfect resource for when you want to spice up an existing idea.

The thesaurus is also helpful for solving the tip-of-the-tongue dilemma. When you have that one perfect word, you just can’t quite think of, plug in something in the realm and see where the thesaurus takes you. It can take your title from bland to intriguing in a simple step.

Plug in synonyms for each main word chosen for your title into the search bar and sift through several other, often more exciting, word choices.

How to Reset your Brain When Struggling

Take a break! Sometimes walking away and coming back several hours or a day later can bring some fresh ideas. This is particularly true if you have been writing the bulk of the essay for a long time.

You can also make it overly simple if you’re struggling with designing the perfect title. Choose one single word as the title- the most important word of the whole essay and build off of that. Simplifying it to just one term can reset your thinking.

How to Use Punctuation to Boost a Title

Punctuation can be a tricky addition to the title, but there are scenarios where using the correct punctuation will enhance your title.

Colons are the best way to join two hard-hitting or important “mini-titles,” often one general and one specific, or one short and one longer.

An example of utilizing a colon in a title is “Friendship Saves: The Importance of Human Connection.” Remember to capitalize the word that directly follows the colon.

It’s also important to remember that colons can improve a title and pave the way for a title to get too wordy quickly. Keep one side short and sweet, and the other just slightly more interesting.

How to Add Humor to a Title

Some topics are just dry to the average reader, and there’s no getting around it. Luckily, there are tricks to entice potential readers by adding a little humor to an essay title.

When possible, utilize cliches or common phrases but work your essay ideas into them. Many scientific or academic essays use a play on words. Some favorites that have been shared include:

  • “Fantastic Yeasts and Where to Find Them: The Hidden Diversity of Dimorphic Fungal Pathogens”
  • “miR miR on the Wall, Who’s the Most Malignant Medulloblastoma miR of Them All”
  • “You Probably Think this Paper’s About You: Narcissists’ Perceptions of their Personality and Reputation”


What Type of Title is Required

Titles of all kinds are vital to literary works. It’s essential to define the main ideas of your paper, no matter what it is about. A few examples of essays that will require a title include:

  • Academic literature
  • Personal essays
  • Newspaper articles
  • Short stories

Delve into each of these specific genres below and explore the best ideas for writing titles for each.

Creating an Academic Essay Title

Throughout a career in academia, or even simply experience writing papers within the educational system, academic essays will always require a title. It’s important that these titles be several things, including:

  • Short
  • Succinct
  • Descriptive

It’s a good idea to begin your (often graded) paper with an appropriate title, whether for an argumentative essay or a summary of data and results. It should be formal, but not too wordy. It should also identify the central ideas or facts immediately for the reader.

An example of this might be “Acetaminophen’s Effect on Caffeine Withdrawal Headaches”. You immediately tune the reader into several facts:

  • There are effects and results to be shared in the essay
  • You are specifically looking at the effects of acetaminophen
  • Particularly withdrawal headaches, not just general pain

The fact that this title seems a little “dry” and not quirky or silly will also let the reader know that it will be a most professional essay.

Zeroing in your title with several key terms and being extremely specific will deliver your article to the intended audience more rapidly.

How to Title a Personal Essay

Personal essays are important in several different areas. You may be asked to write an essay about yourself for things like:

  • A potential employer
  • An academic scholarship
  • A sweepstake prize entry

These can range from the simple “Tell me about yourself” essay to “How would you change the world?” or “What will you do with the prize money?” kinds of topics.

Writing a personal essay for employment or acceptance into a higher level of education is a very common application requirement. These essays have to stand out above the rest, so they must be several things, including:

  • Unique
  • Interesting
  • Relatable

The best way to set the tone for an essay that is all of the above is an intriguing title.

There could easily be several hundred, or more, other applicants all submitting the same type of essay in order to obtain the same goal, so a good title here could be the difference between an opportunity realized or one missed.

Take the extra time and effort to develop an essay title that is strong and appropriate.

How to Create a Title for Newspaper Essays

If writing an essay or an article for a newspaper, it’s absolutely imperative that the title be eye-catching. Sometimes this even means a vivid, shocking headline that seems over-the-top. To make money, newspapers need to sell. To sell, they must catch the public’s attention.

The more intense and exciting the article title, the more likely that it will catch someone’s attention and make a profit. A title like “School Bus Almost Crashes” is much duller than something like “Medical Emergency: Teenager Jumps into Action to Save Schoolchildren”.

These are often sensationalized in order to gain more clicks or buys, but in the aggressive news world, you have to write both for your audience and against the competition.

Creating a Title for a Series of Essays

If you are compiling a series of essays into a short story or an anthology, then you must also create a title for your book of essays; this falls under the same umbrella.

The title of a work that will be cataloged in a library or other publicly accessible place must be informative. You want to encompass your work in a lively and detailed way to give the reader a reason to pull it off the shelf or add it to their cart.

It’s important that these titles don’t give away too much but still provide enough detail to pique interest.

No matter which type of essay you are developing, a title is integral and will make or break your essay.

The Bottom Line to Writing Essay Titles

The importance of an essay title cannot be understated. But first, focus on writing the essay. Let the title come to you through your research and writing. Avoid generic phrases. You want to make this title unique to your essay. And finally, step away for a while if you find yourself at an impasse. This will give you time to regroup.

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