Where to Begin: On Titles

A title can do a ton of work for your essay and, and while the perfect title might remain elusive, there is a basic template that might help. We witnessed one such template in the Sue-Im Lee article that we read as a class. In her title, she takes a meaningful and attention-getting quote from the character Arcagel and uses it for the first part of her title. Then, after the colon, she signals the broader conceptual territory that the paper will cover. Take a look:

“We Are Not the World”: Global Village, Universalism and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.

This template can work for almost any paper. Writing on T.S. Eliot and his Hamlet-like indecision?  Try this:

 “Do I dare eat a peach”? The Drama of Indecision in T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song”

You might also use a very succinct and pithy formulation instead of the quote followed by an explanation of that phrase. Here, we might recall some of the titles I came up with a few weeks back for our in-class activity in which I asked you to produce an outline for a paper based on a hypothetical title alone. Remember some of these (I’ve also added a title of my own and from a colleague)?

Reclaiming Space: Occupying Imaginative and Physical Environments in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange

One Man’s Junk: Material and Social Waste in Frank Norris’s McTeague

Milton’s Mary: Suspending Song in the Nativity Ode

Be Mine: Media, Mediation, and Missed Connections in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange

One can imagine a whole paper promised by these titles even as it engages audience interest—and that’s the point. In class, we will discuss some very boring titles from your Annotated Bibliographies, and also more dynamic ones.  Of course, always aim for the latter, and feel free to invent your own style. The title pivoting around the colon is a pretty common and successful move, but it’s not the only one. Keep your eyes open for fresh strategies!

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