What Shall We Call This Article?

Finding a title that's both apt and catchy is an art form for editors. The practical pointers below were lifted from a workshop given by John Maempa at EPA 1999 in Orlando. John is a veteran editor with the Gospel Publishing House.

Use a working title for each article. Sometimes we get manuscripts in the office that aren't titled at all. That concerns me because it suggests that the writer hasn't really focused on what he or she wants to say in the piece. A title is really more than just a banner or handle we put on a manuscript. It reflects the thought given to the manuscript.

A working title is a synthesis statement that zeroes in on the germ idea, the core idea that the particular manuscript is trying to get across. Often a final title comes from it.

Try to distill what you want to convey into three-to-five words. Sometimes the title will actually be the synthesis statement, or at least it will arise from it. It doesn't have to be a meaningful sentence with a subject, verb, object, etc, but just a statement. For example, for an article on how God delivered someone from drug abuse, you might use something like, "God's Love Surpasses Drug High" as a working title. We used an article like that and titled it, "I Found the Ultimate High." It conveyed the same idea, and it came out of the thesis statement.

We received another article about a group of Christians who were setting up on an inner city street corner just as in the old days. The writer acknowledged they wouldn't attract teenagers with old hymns such as, "Faith of Our Fathers," so they used upbeat music instead. The manuscript was titled, "An Inner City Perspective on Praise and Worship." That was a good working title but not a polished one. The name of the music group was called "Metro Praise," and we used that for the title--it just kind of popped off the page.

That working title told us that the writer had given very careful thought to the development of the idea he wanted to convey in that manuscript. I tell writers not to feel badly if they invest a lot of time in a title and it gets changed. That probably happens 80% of the time.

Here are some pointers on writing titles:Be brief. Keep it to three to five words if possible. Be as pithy as you can. The title is like the sign on a storefront. The reader sees it on the run.

Be careful about being cute or clever. Clear is always better than clever.

Be appropriate to the mood and theme of the article. If it's serious, your title should be serious; if it's humorous, use something light. You don't want a cliffhanger title on a devotional piece.

Be specific. Zoom in on the thrust of the article.

Arrest attention. A good title will pop. It will jump off the page. Use active verbs and concrete nouns. Avoid adjectives, adverbs, and unnecessary connectives that clutter and expand the title. Be crisp.

Be fresh, not trite. We received an article titled, "Accent the Positive." Well that's a threadbare statement. It's been used a lot. The article said that believers ought to be effervescent in their faith, so we called it, "Christian, Come to Life!"

One last hint. If you can write a title, then sit on it for a few days, it often helps you see whether or not it works.