The Importance of a Strong Title

by Kat Seidemann

We have all heard the saying “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” The saying is meant to refer to a person’s outward appearance but it led me to question how one should judge a book, or for that matter any piece of communication. This is where the importance of a strong or catchy title comes in handy.

Captions on photographs and other visuals can (and often do) change, or provide, meaning for an image. The title of a song or movie can compel new audiences. If you are giving a presentation, a witty title can loosen up the atmosphere of the room. A poem may make no sense to the reader if the title is ignored, as with the following lines of a poem:

India ink spot on clean laundry/Weaver of sweaters/for the already clothed… Heart of a Zulu/back a proud arch /spear held high/Unemployed familiar/aiming to appear larger than life. [1]

There seems to be little connection between the images, and it sounds a bit like gibberish, but when I provide the title, “9 Ways of Looking at the Black Cat” the lines make more sense.

Think about the e-mail you are most likely to look forward to reading. The subject line “Party Invitation” suggests a more enjoyable e-mail than one headed “Past Due Notice.” The same is true of books, paintings, poems, movies, and other forms of media. Think of famous titles – had Steinbeck’s East of Eden been titled Settler Family it might have sat unsold on the bookstore shelves.

The importance of a strong title is also true in academic writing. A title should announce the topic, but it should also inspire interest in the writing itself. Consider that your instructor receives 35 essays on Malcolm X and each paper is required to be in APA format, in 12-point font, double spaced with 1” margins – how can you make your hard work stand out from the others? If you have titled your paper Malcolm X, you can guess that many of your classmates have done the same thing. However, if you title you paper something like X= Malcolm Little or X Marks the Spot in History you are more likely to gain favorable attention. This touch of creativity can give your work that extra appeal it deserves.

[1] Seidemann, Katherine, “9 Ways of Looking at the Black Cat.” Licton Springs Review (2008)

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