When you are asked to select or create your own essay title for a piece of work, such as a dissertation or thesis, you may suddenly realise that what might seem like greater freedom is actually a challenge instead. This is perfectly understandable as most learning is guided. For the majority of your academic life, you will have been given a title on which to write an essay. Writing an essay will have become a skill that you have acquired over the years by developing a methodology of response. Now you are being asked to ‘fly solo’, so to speak, and you may find yourself with a blank sheet of paper not knowing where to begin. How do you choose a topic or word to create an interesting title? Don’t worry, we’re here to provide some guidelines that can be applied to help you to choose a title that will be interesting, and appealing, to both you and the reader.
Focus on the type of essay you are writing – Decide on the type of essay you are going to produce. This is important as, for example, a critical essay can be very different from a narrative essay or a research essay.
Next, jot down your ideas related to the main theme of the essay. This allows the ideas you have to help generate a title. In most cases, this will give you a strong title that engages with your ideas.
Choosing your title for an academic essay or one that requires researching a topic
Most academic essay titles have an implicit or explicit question. In other words, they will ask you, directly or indirectly, to consider a topic.
An example of an explicit question in a title might be:
‘Do you agree that Victorian Literature is reflective of the era in which it is set? Discuss this with reference to works by a number of authors of the time’.
If the same essay were expressed implicitly it might look something like this:
‘Victorian Literature reflects the era in which it is set’: discuss this with reference to chosen authors of the era.
You can see that the basic content of both titles is exactly the same and the same sort of essay will be expected in response to both. However, the direct question gives the writer a good starting point in responding by providing a point to argue ‘for or against’. It is therefore always worth considering including a question in your essay title as the response will take you a long way towards the formulation of your thesis statement. You need to also decide whether or not your title has more than one part to it, as the above do.
Similarly, if you are intending to focus on a particular aspect of a topic, you need to include this as a ‘key’ word in your title. You will be very familiar with this process, but again, in reverse. You will be used to finding the ‘key’ words to address when writing an essay as identifying these assists you to answer the question correctly. Now you will be using these words yourself to focus your essay and help define the points you want to make. Some frequently used key words are (but not limited to):
Questions which include these words explicitly define the type of essay that is to be written, examples might be something like:
‘Compare the effectiveness of two different writers on the creation of the welfare state in Britain.’
‘Evaluate the contribution made to the study of psychoanalysis by the early work of Sigmund Freud.’
In both of these questions you can see that the key words used help you to focus attention very precisely on the particular aspect of the topic you intend to write about, and, as with the inclusion of a question, assist with the formulation of a thesis statement.
Choosing a title for an essay that doesn’t involve research
It is very likely that you might be asked to write a title about a descriptive essay, an imaginative piece, or a personal piece. In fact, it is probably true to say that these areas of writing are more likely to involve you in the process of evolving a title, since they are, in a sense, more creative. If you are asked to create a title of this sort, try to write a list of your ideas about the topic because these might generate a title for you. This time, however, your focus needs to be very much on capturing the attention of your reader to make them want to read on. Examples of titles that might be applicable to each of the above are:
Descriptive title – ‘A Paradise on Earth’ (this invites the reader into not only your descriptive piece but also your conception of what constitutes ‘paradise’ and how this differs from the reader’s own)
Imaginative title – ‘The World in Fifty Years’ (this again encourages engagement with the reader’s own ideas and gives you scope to base your imaginative ideas on things around you)
Personal title – ‘The Most Difficult Decision I ever made’ (here you tell the reader a lot about yourself in the title and encourage them to proceed by stimulating interest).
Remember that the main objective of every essay title is to help you to examine a topic of your choice and to engage the reader’s attention sufficiently to make them want more to read more!