How to Title an Essay When You’re Absolutely Stumped

Think essay titles don’t really matter? Think your profs don’t care whether you have an interesting and original title? Think again.

Here’s a quick math equation to help explain why titles do matter.

English profs often teach 4 classes each semester, with 25 students in each class.

(4 classes x 25 students = 100 students per semester)

Students on average write 4 papers each semester.

(4 papers x 100 students = 400 papers per semester)

Each academic year consists of 2 semesters.

(2 semesters x 400 papers = 800 papers per year)

If your English prof has been teaching for 25 years, he’s read about 20,000 student essays.

That’s a lot of essays.

Even if you’re not writing an essay for an English class, your other professors have read tons of essays too. Thus, you need to do something to make your paper to stand out among the masses.

A title is the perfect place to start because it’s the first thing your teacher will read.

Think about it. If you were teaching a class, would you rather read a paper titled “10 Facts About Puppies That Will Make Your Hair Stand on End” or one titled “Essay 3: Facts About Puppies”?

Yeah, me too.

So if you’re stumped, I’ll show you how to title an essay your readers won’t be able to resist.

What Makes an Essay Title Good Enough to Impress Your Professor?

male professor looking over glasses

A good essay title, one worthy of impressing your prof, must do the following:

Reflect the focus of your essay

Titles like “Hockey Rules” or “Shakespeare’s Comedies” give readers a general sense of a broad topic, but they don’t explain the focus.

Instead, try something like “How the Offsides Rule Destroyed Hockey” or “Shakespeare’s Comedies: A Reflection of Modern Rom-Coms.”

Correspond with the purpose and tone of your essay

A serious research essay or scientific report generally demands a serious title. For instance, the title “The BCA Corporation: The Underlying Cause of Water Pollution in the East River” would, in most cases, be more appropriate than “Why BCA’s Environmental Policies Suck.”

Use appropriate wording for the intended audience

If you’re a scientist writing for other scientists, the title of your paper might be Sonic Analog of Gravitational Black Holes in Bose-Einstein Condensates. The average reader might not have a clue what this means, but other scientists do. In this case, then, the title is appropriate.

If you’re writing an essay for an assignment, chances are you’re writing not only for your prof but also for a general audience. Thus, long, wordy titles aren’t usually appropriate because they’re likely to be both boring and difficult to read.

In other words, you want your title to be somewhat brief, and you want it to be catchy. If your audience sees a boring title, they’re more likely to think your paper is boring too.

Now that you have a better understanding of what it takes to write an impressive essay title, here are four tips to help you write your own title.

4 Tips on How to Title an Essay

vintage manual typewriter on desk

When you think of awesome titles, you might think of Ernest Hemingway plunking away on a manual typewriter creating For Whom the Bell Tolls or Orson Welles writing Citizen Kane. But you don’t have to be a famous author, nor do you have to use a manual typewriter, to write a great title.

Use these tips to help you write the perfect title for your paper.

Take a line from your essay

Read through your draft, and look for a line that stands out, one that seems to capture the essence of your paper.

Your introduction, thesis statement, and conclusion are good places to start.

Take, for example, the title Macbeth: A Nihilistic, Self-loathing Tragic Hero. A line from the opening paragraph gives this essay a catchy title. It not only informs readers of the focus of the essay but also makes readers want to learn about the title character. (It also sounds a whole lot better than something like “William Shakespeare’s Macbeth,” doesn’t it?)

Surprise or shock your readers

surprised man wearing glasses

Using an unexpected word choice or shocking statement that might slightly offend readers or even pique their interest can create a compelling title.

For instance, Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank: And Other Words of Delicate Southern Wisdom by Celia Rivenbark draws readers in with the word “skank.” It’s certainly not a word people use to describe six-year-old girls, so the mere presence of the word in the title sparks controversy.

The essay Boys Are Heroes, Girls Need to Be Rescued, and Other Lies Toy-Makers Tell Us also makes use of unexpected word choices. It uses the word “lie” in conjunction with classic stereotypes of boys and girls to make readers want to learn more about the evils of toy companies.

Rework a common saying

There are, of course, times when clichés and sayings aren’t appropriate in writing. But if you rework an existing saying to creating something original, it can be an effective attention grabber.

Let’s say you’ve written a satirical paper about why people shouldn’t keep trying to accomplish goals and should just give up. You might change the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” to “if at first you don’t succeed, give up.”

Readers will wonder whether this is a serious essay about failure or a satirical piece. Either way, you’ve got their attention.

Here’s another example. The phrase “honesty is the best policy” might be changed to “Honesty Is Never the Best Policy” or When Lying Is the Best Policy.

Most people, of course, believe honesty is best. so they’re likely going to be interested in learning why they should lie.

Ask a question

This technique works particularly well for persuasive essays and argumentative essays as your goal for these papers is to convince the audience. By asking a question in your title, you’re already forcing readers to think about the subject.

For example, the essays Why Is Society Making Jokes About Mental Illness? and Is Fan Fiction Illegal Because It Is a Form of Plagiarism? use their titles to pose a question. The questions not only allude to the focus of the papers but also force the audience to consider their own personal answers to the questions.

Remember, the type of question you ask should reflect the tone of your paper. So if you’re writing a narrative essay, for instance, about a bad vacation experience with your roommate, you can use first-person point of view or second-person point of view to add a lighter tone to your paper.

For instance, the title “Didn’t You Promise Me This Would Be Fun?” uses both first- and second-person point of view to let readers know that the focus of the paper will be an experience that was supposed to be fun but ended up going wrong somewhere along the line.

2 More Resources to Help Title Your Essay

person helping another person climb

If you’ve tried the four tips above but nothing seems appropriate for your essay, check out How to Write Good Essay Titles That Are…Good for additional titling advice.

Just in case you’re writing a more light-hearted essay and can play around with more informal language, try this title generator. You can create such awesome titles as “How Bananas Once Saved the World” and “Why Socks Are Killing You.”

Still stumped and can’t think of anything that might impress your prof? Let a Kibin editor lend a helping hand. We can help with titles and just about any other step of the writing process.

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.