Ideally, of course, every component of a paper is perfect. The introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion weave together faultlessly, the grammar is impeccable, and the argument is bulletproof. In reality, though, slaves to deadlines as we are, writers often must prioritize certain aspects of a paper over others. Titles and the first few sentences of introductions (“hooks”) tend to fall to the wayside in the rush to complete the assignment on time. Well, I’m here to say that it is well worth your while to give your paper’s title and introduction some serious thought. In this post, I revisit three truisms we all learned to varying degrees in middle school, but which are no less applicable in the college writing setting.
1) A wimpy title is a wasted opportunity! Most people in the English-speaking world read from the top of the page down, which means your title will be the first part of your paper that readers see. A good first impression can make a big difference, particularly for graded assignments. So, what constitutes a “good” title? Such titles are usually…
- Informative. Give the reader a sense for what texts you’ll be discussing. Name the theories you’ll be contrasting. Whatever your key source of evidence may be, identify it in your title, and include a brief indication of how you will go about analyzing it.
- Concise. While hinting at your paper’s thesis is a generally effective strategy, your title is not the place for laying out your argument point by point.
- If at all possible, punny. Alliteration, puns, and other wordplay can and should be used in titles whenever the fancy strikes you. Go wild with this; it’s a great opportunity to make nerdy jokes about your subject matter. If the joke falls flat, no harm done – it’s just a title. More often than not, though, your professor (or other readers) will appreciate the unexpected humor, and be more engaged by the paper as a whole.
2) Regardless of your paper’s context or intended audience, your title and hook matter. These first few words are perhaps the most important in shaping your reader’s expectations for the paper. They also play a key role in capturing your audience’s attention. Yes, it’s true that most of what you write will only ever be read by a professor, who has to read it, no matter how dull and un-engaging it may be. Nevertheless, it is still an important exercise to be able to compose a powerful title and hook, because it should be your aim to engage your professor. The paper that stands out in the professor’s mind in a positive way is often the paper that earns a high grade.
3) An intelligible introduction lays the groundwork for an intelligible paper. In addition to signaling to the reader the direction your paper will take, an introduction can serve as a good indicator to you, the writer, of how effective and coherent your argument is. If you can’t think of an engaging way to hook your audience, your topic may lack relevance or be uninteresting. If you have trouble introducing and articulating your claim in a single paragraph, that may mean you need to revisit and clarify your argument.
In the end, it pays to have a well-articulated title and introduction to your paper. By no means should these pieces necessarily be written first – in fact, it’s often easiest to write them after the rest of the paper is already complete. However, this doesn’t mean that your title and intro should be an afterthought! Setting aside some time to formulate a strong title and introduction can make a big difference to your paper’s overall effectiveness.