Have you encountered an essay or article where the title was the closest thing to a thesis statement? Would this be problematic in an academic essay? Should titles always reflect content in non-dramatic, nonfiction works?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is a general rule that the titles of stories and novels are selected with more latitude than those of essays. There is a related expectation that, the more academic the essay, the more precise and descriptive the title is likely to be. This is why essays in academic journals often have a subtitle, separated from the title by a colon, allowing the title to be more whimsical, while the subtitle furnishes an explanation ("Spelling and the Spell: A Lexicographer's Approach to Macbeth").

The title of an essay seldom contains an entire thesis statement. It is more likely to indicate the subject, without telling the reader what position the author has taken. For instance, Zora Neale Hurston's famous essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" clearly contains the topic of the essay in the title, but you must read the essay to discover how it does feel. Many readers might approach the essay thinking it is likely to be a lament or a complaint, when in fact the author's attitude is the opposite of this.

If the title is the closest thing to the thesis statement in an essay, this is principally a problem with the essay, not the title. The title should provide information about the essay's subject and, ideally, make the reader want to find out more. The precision of the information is more important in an academic essay because the reader is likely to want information on a more specific topic. If the title is misleading, the reader has wasted his or her time. However, if you are reading for general enjoyment or information, then your time has only been wasted if you did not enjoy or learn anything from the piece.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial