WA lesson Ideas: getting the title right

One of the most important aspects of developing a successful essay, as stated on the main Written Assignment page, is of course the title itself.

Phrasing the title well depends on two key components:

1. Making sure the chosen topic is an appropriate one

2. Taking time to phrase the title in a meaningful, effective way

Typically, topics and titles do not promote good thinking when:

  • The topic is too broad or too narrow or simplistic
  • The topic does not allow for sufficient attention to elements of literary craft
  • The topic is not particularly relevant to the work
  • The title is too vague
  • The title is 'closed', i.e. one that invites simple factual description or paraphrase
  • The title is too long and complex

The table below details a range of titles from past assignments. A couple have some notes attached, suggesting whether or not they are good ones. Read through the rest with your students and ask them to provide constructive criticism. For ones that they consider to be weak, ask your students to suggest amendments.

One way to get the ball rolling is to ask them simply whether this sounds like an essay you would be interested in reading...

Title Comment

Blending the believable with the fantastic.

This is, self evidently, a very poor title.  Although the work being discussed was in fact 'Perfume', the fact that it is not mentioned is odd.  The title not provide very much clarity at all about the focus of the essay and the absence of any command terms such as 'to what extent', 'in what ways', 'explore the use of' etc suggest that the student has not set him or herself a very clear task. Finally, the terminology is vague, abstract and somewhat empty.  The clearer, the more focused and the tighter the sense of direction provided by the title, the better.

Retaining humanity in the midst of inhumanity:  an essay on the experiences of Primo Levi and the Birkenau concentration camp.

Sometimes, good titles can indeed make use of an initial prompt, as is the case here.  It is, in fact, a  frequent characteristic of Paper 2 essay titles.  This one is reasonably inviting, but the focus remains rather vague and potentially opens the door to paraphrase and description only.  Is the student simply going to re-tell some of the 'experiences' that Levi recounts, for example?  

In what ways does Sophocles make use of the contrast between natural and religious imagery as a means to depict Oedipus' internal struggle?

 

This is  very promising title.  The candidate has focused on a literary element in the title, but instead of simply writing 'the use of imagery' or even 'natural and religious imagery', s/he has brought a focused literary element to bear on a particular aspect of content - in this instance, Oedipus's divided self. It is worth considering this principle - i.e. connecting a particular aspect of style or language with a particular aspect of content, and to examine the relationship between them.

The subject of social class in Miss Julie

To what extent does the character of The Warden in Kiss of the Spiderwoman contribute to a political reading of the novel?

Explore the relationship between Marjane and her family in the graphic novel, Persepolis.

'The power of The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh emerges from its use of non-linear narrative.'  To what extent do you think this is a valid reading of the novel?

What are the most important settings in  The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov?

How important is contast in A hero of our time by Mikhail Lermentov

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