Written by Patricia Sipes

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

      The naive Juliet speaks those words in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  It is a way of saying she loves not the name by which Romeo is called, but the person in which the name embodies in him.  It is a beautiful sentiment, and one of the most quoted Shakespeare phrases, but it is much harder to live by than society would like to admit.

      It would be nice if every one did not judge the proverbial book by its cover, looking only at its content, but we just do not have the time.   In the academic world, the title is the first gateway to your paper, followed by the additional test of an abstract.  If the title does not speak to the reader, or engage them in actively wanting to continue, they most likely will not read on.

      No one can tell you exactly how to write your title, but here are a few tips that have proved helpful in the past:

  • Put your best foot forward.  Start with something that leaves an impression, and use a colon to add a subtitle that better explains your paper or project.
  • A lot of people tend to prefer writing their title after the completion of their paper.  Personally, I like to write a few title options out first, or at the very latest after I have written a preliminary abstract because it is a tool to focus my writing.
  • Use a metaphor.  It not only makes your paper more tangible and accessible, but gives you a way to organize and gear your abstract and actual paper towards. (alternatively, take the over arcing metaphor from your paper and apply it to your title). Examples:
    • Following the Flight of "The Raven:" An Examination of the Literary Process
    • Anatomy of a Manuscript: The Telling Tales of Robert Graves's "Untitled Work on Ancient Myth"
  • Use deliberate and careful language in your title.
    • Be aware of your article use: there is a difference between using 'a' and 'the.'
    • THINK about the connotation of the words you are using.  Consider the difference between "Dissection of a Manuscript" and "Anatomy of a Manuscript."
    • Sometimes, paper titles count against word counts, so the less words you can use to still fully display a sense of your paper, the better.
  • I have had many professors warn against using quotations as titles; it really does make people think you could not figure out a way to make your own title.
  • Remember your audience.  Write a title that appeals to a broad, but educated audience; in the Humanities, it is almost never necessary to use specialized jargon in titles.