Titles are Like that First Handshake
“Essay One,” “Reflection,” “Argument,” “[Insert Title Here],” titles like these when read aloud get this response: chirp, chirp, chirp. Yes, crickets, that’s right. A good title is much like a good handshake. If you make it too loose, the other party doesn’t know you exist, and if it is too tight, they will run away from you, clutching their throbbing hand close to their chest in retreat.
I remind my students that good titles are essential to good writing when it comes to first impressions, and they need to fulfill two requirements:
- be creative to catch the reader’s attention and spark interest
- state or hint at the subject that will be covered so you are not making false promises
When I collect the final copies of essays from my students, the first item I look at are their titles; then, I make three stacks: 1) I need to read this now! 2) I can wait and read this later. 3) I will have to read this later. Those who teach writing know that it is not enough to read like a teacher but like a reader, for that is ultimately who will be reading student work once they graduate: not us but their employers and customers. Titles need to be created with the reader in mind, not the teacher. Titles are a marketing tool that advertises not only the writing but the author.
Students, take note of some of the great titles and don’t dismiss your own when handing in your next essay: The Call of the Wild, Grapes of Wrath, The Wind in the Willows, As I Lay Dying, Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, James and Giant Peach. . . . Treat your essay title like it could turn into a best seller or a job. You never know, it just might.