Paper Titles: Inform by Stating your Topic and Position; Grab the Reader’s Interest If You Can

Jerz > Writing > Academic > [ Titles | Thesis Statements | Blueprinting | Quoting | CitingMLA Format ]

An effective research paper title will

  • identify the limited subject of the essay, and
  • the position the paper takes on the subject.

12797827_885815371487485_1974491_nIt may also be useful to grab the reader’s interest with a brief quote or detail, but if your goal is to persuade your reader, your title will also need to inform.

Your title is your first opportunity to persuade your reader. Don’t waste it.

Bad Example Essay 1
That’s not a paper title, it’s just a label. Your instructor already knows what the homework is; your instructor will be reading the title to find out what position your paper is doing to defend.
Iffy Example The Social Value of Television
The above at least identifies the topic, but it’s weak because it doesn’t identify the position the author is going to take.
Iffy Example The Social Value of Television: Smith’s Microcommunities from “Appointment TV” to “Binge-watching”
This title is more informative; if your instructor simply wants you to list what you’ve learned, then this title might be fine. But if your instructor has asked you to defend a position, this title doesn’t even hint at what position this paper will take. (On the most basic level, will this paper agree or disagree with Smith’s position on the relationship between microcommunities and the social value of television?)
Good Example How Smith’s Microcommunities Elevated the Social Value of Television (1980s-2010s)
Good Example Television’s Surprising Endurance Disproves Smith’s Microcommunity Model
Either of these will work. Note that simply mentioning that the paper will talk about the social value of television and Smith’s concept of microcommunities is vague; there are a limitless number of creative ways that an intelligent student could work with those two subjects, and


Bad Example Hamlet and Macbeth: Similarities and Differences
My freshman year in college, I actually turned this in as the title of a paper.

My argument was that as Hamlet’s plot descended into tragedy, Hamlet became more human, while as Macbeth’s plot unfolded, Macbeth became less human.


Good Example Tragic reversal: Macbeth’s tragic fall mirrors Hamlet’s tragic ascent
That would have been a much better title for the paper I described above.