So, you’ve gone to all the trouble to think of something to write about. You’ve done the research. You’ve crafted a logical outline. And, you’ve found just the right words to express your ideas. Now it’s time for the final touches, including writing your title…which may appear to be the easy part. “There are so few words in a title,” you think. “I’ll just throw something together.” Think again. Crafting good titles is actually one of the most challenging parts of the writing process. Here are some tips for making sure your title does justice to your work:
Take Your Time
Some sources will tell you to spend as much time on a title as you do on the work itself. That much time may not be necessary, but you get the idea: you need to leave plenty of time to craft a good title. Fewer words equal a greater writing challenge. Why? Because each word must carry more weight, because you are forced to whittle your message down to the bare essentials, and because in addition to describing what is in the document or section to follow, titles and headlines must also be spark interest in potential readers.
Use a thesaurus to find words that express what you want to say in an appealing way. Let’s say you’ve written an article about biking to work. Maybe the word “cycling” is a better fit than “biking” for your title. Play with multiple combinations of various words, and write them all out. When you get a good list, start narrowing it down.
Put It to the Test
Read your title or headline out loud. Does it pass the “roll off the tongue” test? If it’s hard to say, it’s also hard to read. Keep titles to fewer than seven words and, finally, consider shorter alternatives for long words.
Remember to use words and concepts that will capture the attention of your readers. Audience awareness is key, here. What is the ONE thing your readers will find most compelling in your piece? Craft your title or headline around that idea.
Do What Works
Next time you’re at the grocery store, check out the headlines on the covers of women’s magazines. You’ll see some familiar formats, including promises to answer a question (“Where Have All the Good Teachers Gone?”), solve a problem (“How to Be a Better Friend in Just 10 Minutes a Day”), or address a concern (“Why Dieting Never Works”). See if you can fit your title into one of these formats.
A couple of other strategies to try are rhyming and alliteration, which can help you create fun, snappy titles. I recently used “Neighbor Operators” as a title for a piece about phone operators that live and work in the same geographic area as their customers, and “Missing Money” to call attention to a description of a website that helps visitors find forgotten funds.
Remember, though, that not all titles need to be fun to read. Sometimes you just need to get the point across. The audience, style, and context for your piece should determine what’s appropriate.
What is the best title you have come up with? Please share in the comments.
About the Author: Karen Marcus, M.A. is a Northern Colorado copywriter and grant writer who has been helping clients in a wide range of industries to put their best word forward for 13 years.
Need assistance writing titles that work? Karen can help! Click here for contact info.