3 Tutorials that teach Titles
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Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson explains the purpose of and approaches to titles.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? Today, we're going to be looking at titles from the different ways writers choose to name their compositions to formatting requirements.

Titles are the first thing a reader sees in a text, but they're often the last thing a writer writes. In the academic context, titles are mostly utilitarian, providing insight into the subject, thesis, or style of an asset. But the other purpose of a title is to draw the reader in, so it's important to have a title that balances being informative and engaging. Generic titles, things like Essay Number One, or My Draft, should be avoided at all costs since nothing will make a reader dread reading like such a clear statement that the writer couldn't be bothered to even try to entice his/her audience by thinking a little.

And when thinking about a title, it's best to consider the purpose and thesis of the writing project. There are, however, a few different strategies writers have for coming up with titles. One strategy that's especially common in academic circles is choosing an informative and formal title. For example, a book of photographs called Photography and the USA, which is pretty straightforward, but because of its simplicity, it's engaging too. And then there's perhaps the most self-explanatory title of any book I've seen in a long time, Why Plato Wrote.

It's also common for academic articles and books to use a colon to include a subtitle, which allows for more information about the subject of the text. For example, Fish Not Meant to Swim: The History of Sexuality and Religious Self-Denial. This quickly and effectively explains not only the subject in the subtitle, but a little of the author's perspective on the matter via the main title.

And then there are titles like Islam and Christianity: Theological Themes in a Comparative Perspective. This does a pretty good job of capturing the reader's attention, while also explaining what he or she is likely to find out in the text.

Writers of academic text should be careful doing this, but it can also be a good idea to choose a funny or clever title. One of my favorites is Mary Roach's book about the practicalities and difficulties involved in space travel, called Packing for Mars, because the title perfectly captures the simultaneously awe-inspiring sparing and incredibly inconvenient act that is going into outer space.

And then there's NOFX's politically charged punk rock album, The War on Terrorism, which does a pretty good job of satirising then President George W. Bush's favorite term. But no matter what title we choose for our writing projects, we need to think carefully since even if it's the last time we write, it will be the first thing our readers see.

And once you've chosen the title for your writing project, it's important to understand the formatting requirements. First off, the title should not be put in quotes though they should be placed in adherence to the style guidelines of whatever formatting style you're working under, either APA, MLA, Chicago Manual of Style, or another. If you've chosen a subtitle, it should be separated from the main title by a colon.

The only other truly universal rule for titles, at least an academic and professional circles, have to do with capitalization. The first and last word should always be capitalized along with the other major words. Generally, those that are longer than three letters and are not articles. But there are exceptions. When in doubt, consult the guide of whatever formatting style you're working with.

So what did we learn today? We learned about titles, what they do, and the different ways to choose them as well as the formatting requirements involved. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.