“Hmm … what the heck is the subject of Errol’s blog this time? That’s weird – it has no title!” Yup, my point exactly: we need that so-important item to quickly let us know the focus of a book, an essay, a column – and a blog. I don’t want you to continue your confusion, of course, so you may now rest easy: “The Art of Writing a Title: How to Master this Crucial Moniker.” Think about this: the first item anyone sees before reading anything is … the title! This allows the reader to quickly select what wants or needs to be read, to understand the subject of the writing, and is a short and quick description that can narrow a search to one item. Yet beyond its obvious need, there is also a flair to writing a quality title. Mastering this will be good for author, reader, and anyone else connected to the written piece.
Step back for a moment, and imagine how confusing it might be if we had no names (“And don’t forget to invite that guy with the neatly-trimmed beard, blue eyes, and brown hair!”) or if stores had no names (“I need to pick up some underwear and socks at, you know, that store on Chicago Boulevard with that salesperson who was so nice.”) or if restaurant dishes had no names (“I’ll order that steak you have with the nice mushrooms on top smothered with cranberry sauce!”). It would take a bit longer to describe the person, place, or thing so another person could finally say, “Oh, yeah, sure – I know what you mean!” Now, switch over to books – what if they had no titles? Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” might become “I need to buy that book with a boy named Huckleberry and his slave friend Jim who have adventures” … To Kill a Mockingbird would possibly be “The major assignment is that book with the attorney Atticus Finch, a lawyer, that takes place in the south” … One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest could be listed as “A book that takes place in a psychiatric hospital with Nurse Ratched in charge”: again, the non-titles might be confusing, they take up too much space, and are just not “friendly” to the eye or ear. Names and titles are simply crucial for a quick understanding of the read.
Just what makes a perfect title? Mykayla Troutsmith was tasked to write an essay for her Marketing class. It was complete, and she was quite satisfied with her efforts. The only item missing: her title. Finally, she typed it at the top, on its own page: “A Report: Developing a New Generation of Customers for the X-Box — It’s Important to Look Underground and Overhead So You Don’t Miss Out on Marketing Possibilities.” Mykayla was taught to always have a second pair of eyes look over her writing before submitting it, so she sent her essay to a tutor. Well, the tutor was on his second cup of coffee by the time he finished reading the title: much too long! The other problem noticed were two words: “A Report” – it was obvious this was a report, so that did not belong in the title. The tutor made these suggestions to Makayla, and she responded with a perfectly coiffed professional-sounding title: “Developing a New Generation of X-Box Customers: Looking Underground and Overhead.” From 26 letters this introduction to the student’s essay was now a mere 11 words, and most importantly it had the two most important components of a title: an introduction to the subject of the essay, with a bit of creativity tossed in.
There are a few other guidelines to assure a title makes a reader happily sigh, “Ah, I know exactly what I’m going to read!” In non-fiction writing it’s okay to tease the reader a bit (such as Makayla’s do-over), but never to the point of confusion, as often is the case in fiction writing. If the reader starts a head scratching followed by a “Huh?” there’s a chance that written effort will be skipped, something the writer never wants.
Another common error would be something like this, an essay or article or book titled “Romanticism.” This can leave open many possibilities about where the paper is headed, but writing “Romanticism in 19th Century English Poetry: Why It Still Matters” tells the exact focus of the writing. It is too common for writers to take the broad subject of their writing and slap that on as a title. Sure, it’s easy, but what about the reader? Once again, confusion as to the specific direction of the writing is missing. Too often, this leads to a reader saying, “Nope, not going to read that one” or jumping in and finding writing that is somewhat like swimming in a murky pond: not really sure what lies ahead.
Finally, two other title-writing rules: (1) The title is not a thesis, so don’t write it like one; (2) All first letters of major words in a title are capped; the first letter of any word after a colon in a title is also capped.
Writing an impressive and solid title is an art, but one that can be easily mastered. In the case of the title an old adage is especially true: you only get one chance to make a first impression. There are two ways this could be written as a title: “A Guide: Writing an Impressive and Solid title is an Art, But One That Can Be Easily Mastered” or “The Art of Writing a Title: How to Master this Crucial Moniker.” Which blog would you read?