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 ExampleEssay 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 ExampleThe 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 ExampleThe 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 ExampleHow Smith’s Microcommunities Elevated the Social Value of Television (1980s-2010s)
Good ExampleTelevision’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.


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


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

  1. My topic is about legalizing divorce because here in our cuontry we don’t have divorce, What would be a good title for this?

    • That depends on what your assignment is. I won’t be grading your paper, so I’m not in a position to give you specific advice. If your instructor simply wants you to summarize information accurately, then simply stating the topic is fine. I expect my students to do more than summarize the “correct answer”. I expect them to take a position on a topic worth debating, and use evidence to defend a particular position. So I would ask my students to write a title that specifies what position they are taking on their stated topic.

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