Writing Help

Scholarship and Award Essays

Writing the Essay: The Title

In scholarship essays, the title often makes a great deal of difference. A smart, catchy, relevant title marks the essay as worth reading and the essayist worth noting.

1. Usually it is not enough to name the subject of the essay in the title. It is especially important to go beyond the general theme in competitions where all contenders are responding to the same prompt. Give, in addition, a sense of the argument of the essay.

2. Write as specific a title as you can without going on too long or emphasizing only part of the argument. Remember that whatever you promise in the title must actually come through in the essay.

3. Consider using some of the words (or synonyms for the words) of the prompt, but do not simply restate the whole prompt, unless you are specifically instructed to use the prompt as the title of the essay. Even so, if you are submitting several essays in response to different prompts, make sure that the titles clearly suggest which essay goes with which prompt.

4. Presenting a promise often engages the reader. Titles that begin with "How" or "Why" promise that you will explain something worth understanding. Similarly, presenting a question in the title is basically a promise that you will provide some sort of answer in the essay.

5. A common practice in writing titles is to give two versions of the title separated by a colon. See the first example below.

Example 1: Lake Bled. Not: "A Great Day in Summer," not: "A Summer Day Worth Remembering," not: "Lake Bled in Summer," not: "My Favorite Day in Bled." The fact that it was a summer day is not part of the argument. Instead, consider: "True Peace and Quiet: The Undiscovered Treasures of Lake Bled."

Example 2: Global Warming. Not: "Global Warming," not: "My Opinions about Global Warming," not: "How U.S. Policy Contributes to Global Warming," not: "Accounting for My Opinion That U.S. Policy Causes at Least 40% More Global Warming than the Policies of Other Countries." Instead, consider: "Does U.S. Policy Contribute More to Global Warming than Any Polluter? An Environmentalist's View."