Can a title be a question? Does it need punctuation?  

Can a title be a question? Does it need punctuation?

 

 

Expert Answers
reyemile eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'll answer your question with a question: what is the purpose of an essay's title?

Maxine Hairston and Michael Keene, scholars of rhetoric and communication, identify four main purposes of an essay title:

First, it predicts content. Second, it catches the reader's interest. Third, it reflects the tone or slant of the piece of writing. Fourth, it contains keywords that will make it easy to access by a computer search.

Looking at those four purposes there is nothing there that cannot be accomplished by a question. 

For a stellar example, consider the following essay title: "Is the Internet making us Dumber or smarter? Yes." (Note that it does use punctuation, to let us know that it is asking a question.)

First, it tells us what we will be discussing the internet and its effect on intelligence and education.

Second, it is an amusing conundrum presenting seemingly self-contradictory information, inciting curiosity in the reader to get the authors full opinion.

Third, the answer "yes" to an "or" question is goofy and irreverent, letting readers know that the topic will be handled with levity.

Fourth, it shows up very high on Google's search algorithms if you look for simple questions like, "is the internet making us stupid?".

So as you can see, questions can serve as effective essay titles. Unless your instructor's particular rules or style guide explicitly disallows it, you should have no trouble with a question mark on your title page.

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The only punctuation mark needed for a title would be a question mark at the end—if the title is a question. It is always considered perfectly acceptable to use questions as titles for any piece of writing—a poem, a novel, an essay, a short story, or any other literary piece. Three short stories that come to mind are Leo Tolstoy's "How Much Land Does a Man Need?", Guy de Maupassant's short story "Was It a Dream?", and Frank Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" (I have had to put these short story titles in quotes, but they would not be in quotes at the heads of the published stories.)

This could become an interesting game. There are undoubtedly thousands of articles with questions as titles. Such titles make good attention-grabbers. It is harder to think of books with such titles. A couple of well-known books that come to mind are Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by the science-fiction author Philip E. Dick and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969) by mystery writer Horace McCoy, a contemporary of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A title can certainly be a question, and as such, it should include a question mark.  There are many book titles with question marks, for example, How Does a Poem Mean?, by John Ciardi, at one time a popular college textbook,  Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, which is a book you might have read when you were younger, and Are You My Mother?, by P.D. Eastman, a book I read to my children when they were very young.  If you think about it, you will be able to think of movie titles with question marks, too.  I have provided a link for you of a long list of titles with question marks.

szyq55 | Student

Thank You.