Have you ever wanted to write an amazing title, but all you could think of was something lackluster like Romeo and Juliet, Emma, or Tom Sawyer?
Well, okay. Maybe titles do not make or break true masterpieces, but fast forward to the Information Age, where many different distractions compete for readers’ attention, especially in online articles. Even the few articles that people do choose to read, they do not read for long. In fact, according to Time, most readers will quit reading this article right now. Why? Because fifty-five percent of readers of online articles spend fewer than fifteen seconds reading an article (Haile, “What You Think You Know,” par. 8). Terrific titles are essential for authors who want to persuade readers to invest in the rest of the words on the page.
Dr. Kenneth Covinsky, associate editor of JAMA-Internal Medicine, explains, “Your title really matters! … [A]udiences only read a small fraction of the content in print journals…. If the title is boring or uninteresting, they will proceed no further…. Don’t let all of your hard effort developing your paper go to waste with a bad title” (“Advice to Authors,” pars. 1, 5, 7).
People in scientific fields, such as Dr. Covinsky, are beginning to recognize the importance of having creative titles. But even if authors want to produce effective headlines, many do not possess a system for composing them. Before my sophomore year, I found myself in that exact position. Even after I was convinced that I needed to construct improved headlines, I did not have a system for composing classy titles. Thanks to Dr. Marv Hinten, Friends University professor emeritus, I now have some creative ideas to boost my papers to a whole new level. Dr. Hinten shared with my fall 2016 editing class five ways to craft clever titles.
First, use allusions. In other words, refer to an idea that readers are familiar with without explicitly mentioning the original source. For example, an author writing about the need for positive role models in society could title his/her article “Superkids: The Amazing Power of Multitasking in Youth.”
Second, use puns, which are plays on commonly used words. Dr. Hinten shared the example of an article titled “Everything You Auto Know on Car Care.”
Third, incorporate rhymes into your titles. The title of this article could have been, “Why Is My Title Vital?”
Fourth, be a superhero and use alliteration to create tantalizing titles. Clark Kent, Peter Parker, and Wonder Woman all have alliterative names.
Finally, present paradoxical statements. When something is different than it seems it should be, it typically attracts the reader’s attention. Doesn’t the title “The Kindness of Cruelty” want to make you keep reading to see how this can be true?
Vivid imagination and clear direction—these two aspects combined are what a clever title will include. Not only will authors and readers be inspired to think more creatively about the world, but also clear communication can take place between the author and the reader. All of us,
whether we are Shakespeare lovers or Einstein followers, have something to communicate. So, next time your paper is one of a pile of twenty-five on the professor’s desk, make it stand out from the stack with a terrific title!
Photograph made available by Mike Tinnion via Unsplash