An essay’s title is the first thing your readers - and teachers - will see when they pick up your essay. A great title can grab the reader’s attention and set them up to be WOWED, while a bad title can lower expectations and cause an unfavorable outlook on the whole essay. Here are some tips to keep your titles working for, not against, you.
Tip 1: If it’s an academic essay, keep it academic.
Nothing screams “unprofessional” like a joke title on an essay that’s supposed to be strictly academic. This applies to scientific reports and research papers, specifically. In these cases, you want your title to succinctly explain your findings or the topic at hand. For example, if you wrote a paper on women’s roles in World War II, you should go for titles that explain the topic without inserting any puns of silliness; for instance, “The Women of the War” isn’t creative, but it gets across the point you want to make.
Tip 2: If it’s more creative, mix it up.
For creative writing such as stories or poems, you don’t want your title to be quite as straightforward as with academic work. Titles for creative writing can either be used to explain the context of an otherwise enigmatic piece, or to create an mysterious beginning to a piece that is later explained (or not, if that's what you're going for!).
Creative titles need to draw the reader into the story, either by introducing questions that the reader would want answered (novel title "The Simple Art of Murder" by Raymond Chandler introduces countless questions - who's murdering who? Why is it considered an art?), or by giving something away from the writing that intrigues the writer (e.g. "I Killed Hemingway").
Tip 3: Keep it short and sweet.
Occasionally we can come up with a lengthy, clever title, but in general, if you’re bad at writing titles, the shorter the better! One foolproof tactic is to go through the whole essay and highlight particularly stand-out single words throughout, then go through and choose one of them that seems relevant for your title.
The Bottom Line
In order for an essay title to be great, it needs to grab the reader's attention. However, the #1 concern (and #1 most made mistake!) is choosing a title that isn't relevant. Titles shouldn't need to be explained - they should make sense, but still be eye-catching.