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Evolution Essays Hints

A Guide to Isaac Asimov's Essays

Copyright © 1995 by Edward Seiler and Richard Hatcher. All rights reserved.

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Though perhaps best known throughout the world for his science fiction, Isaac Asimov was also regarded as one of the great explainers of science. His essays exemplified his skill at making complex subjects understandable, and were written in an unformal style, liberally sprinkled with personal anecdotes that endeared him to a legion of faithful readers.

It was all a labor of love; in particular Asimov often remarked that of all his writing, his essays for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction were his favorite, despite the fact that he received the lowest word-rate payment for them. From November 1959 to February 1992, an essay of his appeared in the magazine every month, without fail.

Asimov didn't stop with his F&SF essays, however. With the advent of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in 1977, he began a series of editorials that appeared at the beginning of each issue. He also wrote a regular series of science articles for American Way (the magazine of American Airlines), SciQuest (the magazine of the American Chemical Society), and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. In addition he wrote essays and introductions for literally hundreds of magazines, newspapers, books, and trade publications. All together he wrote over 1600 essays.

With such a huge collection of essays, it can pose a problem for the reader who remembers a piece that Asimov wrote, but can't recall the source. Those who haven't read a great many essays may want to know if Asimov ever wrote an essay on a particular subject. And then there are the Asimov completists who want to read everything that Asimov ever wrote, but lose sleep at night worrying that they might have missed something. Where do they turn?

To that end, we have compiled a list of every known essay by Asimov, together with a brief description of its subject, and listed the source in which the essay originally appeared, as well as any collections of Asimov's in which it appeared. Please note that the emphasis is on known, since there are undoubtedly some we have missed. We have included every essay that has appeared in Asimov's collections, as well as a good number of those that have never been collected. Also included are introductions Asimov wrote for other books, though in this department we probably have missed quite a few.

Notes on the listings

There are some essays that do not appear in any collection and are not readily available, so that the authors haven't read them yet. For those essays the subject field is left blank.

Asimov compiled a list of his F&SF essays on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his first essay, in the November 1978 issue of F&SF, and reprinted (slightly updated) in the collection The Road to Infinity. That list is ordered alphabetically according to the title of the essay, and includes a designation of the collection in which each essay appears as well as a very brief subject description for each essay. We have used those descriptions, but have added to them in some places, as well as added our own descriptions for essays published since his list appeared. In order to distinguish between his descriptions and ours, we preceded all of our additions with a virgule (also known as a slash, "/"). Note that it is only the F&SF essay descriptions that are affected by this.

The Los Angeles Times essay titles are sometimes followed by a designation such as "(V4)". This indicates the section and page where the essay appeared in the newspaper. The L.A. Times essays for which the exact date of publication has not yet been determined are listed with a range of dates within which they appeared, either 1987-1989 or 1990-1992.


Here are five series in which Asimov's essays regularly appeared, with the remainder grouped together under "Various Sources". The essays are listed chronologically within groups.

Essay lists ordered by source:


What is truly remarkable about Asimov's body of nonfiction is not only its sheer volume, but its great breadth and diversity, and this is reflected in the essay subjects. Though he concentrated on the sciences, and especially loved astronomy, you will find that there aren't many areas of human knowledge that he ignored. The subject groupings here begin with the broad bibliographic categories, and end with some somewhat more specialized areas.

Sometimes Asimov wrote more than one essay on the same subject, in order to update an essay once new information became available, or simply revisit a topic that he had written about long ago. The essays within each subject area are arranged so that, to the extent possible, essays about the same or related topics are grouped together.

Essay lists ordered by subject:

Index of essays ordered by subjects:

economics and overpopulation
fine arts
issues in science
mathematics and computers
about himself
religion and creationism
television and film
science fiction
Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine
miscellaneous topics

Essays about psychology

Essays about societyEssays about historyEssays about geographyEssays about anthropologyEssays about economics and overpopulationEssays about fine artsEssays about literatureEssays about writingEssays about issues in scienceEssays about mathematics and computersEssays about astronomy
  • /calendar calculations; choosing Julian day number 1
  • evidence that planets are more likely
  • mapping the stars; duodecimal system
  • Shakespeare's astronomy
  • ancient astronomic theory
  • star of Bethlehem
  • extraterrestrial life
  • extraterrestrial intelligence
  • extraterrestrial intelligence
  • germs from space are unlikely
  • possibility of life near Alpha Centauri
  • will aliens be kind or cruel to humans?
  • no contact with advanced civilization has ever been made
  • conditions necessary for a planet to support life
  • reasons why other intelligent life in the universe has not reached Earth
  • the search for extraterrestrial life
  • extraterrestrial life
  • can life exist on other planets?
  • possibilities of life beyond Earth in solar system and space
  • probabilities of intelligent life in our galaxy
  • it is profitable, useful, and safe to attempt to contact advanced civilizations
  • we should listen for signals from other intelligent life
  • we should search for extraterrestrial civilizations
  • the search for intelligent signals
  • review of the book _Life Beyond Earth_
  • the chances of violence when Earth people encounter aliens
  • can we avoid violence when encountering alien visitors?
  • /view of stars from the U. S.
  • viewing the sky, stars, and the constellations
  • multiple-mirror reflecting telescopes
  • using liquid mercury to construct large telescope mirrors
  • luminosity of objects in the sky
  • /luminosity of near stars, implications for life
  • a telescope probe going 90 billion miles out
  • Pioneer 10, solar wind, and gravity waves
  • the route of Voyager 2 far out in space
  • an observatory on the Moon is the next step in observing cosmic radiation
  • satellites have made exciting discoveries in our solar system
  • details of planetary probes to Mars, Jupiter, and beyond
  • precession of the equinoxes
  • zodiac and precession
  • perturbations in Earth's spinning
  • axial tipping /and its relation to ice ages
  • latitude and longitude
  • shape of the Earth
  • /ancient ideas of Earth's shape
  • Kepler's third law
  • orbital eccentricity
  • /changing distances of the moon, sun, and Mars
  • Sun's motion across the sky
  • Trojan asteroids
  • the Moon's size and closeness spurred interest in astronomy
  • satellites
  • retrograde satellites
  • /lists of planetary satellites (moons)
  • discoveries of more planetary satellites
  • the unique features of the solar system's satellites
  • tidal effects
  • /tides slow the Earth's rotation
  • adjusting timekeeping for the slowing effect of tides
  • /gravitational lenses
  • evidence for another planet
  • evidence of unseen mass in the universe
  • gravitational lenses and the missing mass
  • gravitational wave detection
  • a gravitational lens bends quasar light
  • the bending of light may help detect missing mass in the universe
  • finding planets by the gravitational lens effect
  • neutrinos and supernovas
  • /detecting neutrinos from the Sun
  • /neutrinos and the missing mass
  • /neutrinos, the supernova of 1987
  • the puzzle of too few neutrinos from the Sun
  • the relation of low solar neutrino counts and WIMP particles
  • the number of neutrinos from supernovas
  • recognizing antimatter by antineutrinos
  • confirmation of relativity by arrival time of neutrinos
  • neutrinos confirm supernova theory
  • the neutrino was predicted by theory years before it was observed
  • the universe could be closed if there are massive neutrinos
  • /non-optical astronomy
  • /gamma ray astronomy
  • /radio waves and radio astronomy
  • long baseline radio telescopes
  • bouncing signals off Titan's surface
  • /growth of our view of the universe
  • diversity in the appearance of the universe
  • since 1900, our understanding of the universe has changed
  • imaginative view of the universe from outside
  • the search for permanence in the universe
  • advantages of a space telescope
  • the Hubble telescope gives new data
  • views from planetary surfaces
  • /sizes of the bodies in the solar system
  • astronomical nomenclature of the solar system
  • what we learned about the solar system, and other new discoveries
  • studying the solar system helps us understand the weather, the sun, and life
  • the Nemesis hypothesis that a companion of the Sun causes comet showers
  • astronomical nomenclature of the Sun and the Moon
  • characteristics of the Sun
  • Sun's companion
  • tidal influences on Sun
  • /determination of the Sun's size and distance
  • /determination of the Sun's mass
  • measuring the Sun's size by an eclipse
  • the Sun's output, sunspots, flares, and corona
  • /sunspots and coincidences
  • sunspots and solar flares, and their effect on Earth
  • tracking solar flares from tree rings
  • solar wind and particles produced in the Sun
  • /chemical composition of the Sun and planets
  • a description of the final stages of the Sun's life
  • we probably don't understand reactions in the Sun's core
  • solar eclipses
  • solar eclipses/and their prediction
  • solar eclipses
  • influence of Moon on life
  • /new theory for the Moon's formation
  • Moon rocks found on Antarctica
  • /future changes in the Moon's rotation
  • the possibility of ice in the Moon's shadows
  • the Moon's surface tells solar system history
  • formation and makeup of the Moon
  • elements of the Moon
  • mapping the Moon
  • planetary nomenclature
  • planetary areas
  • world sizes in solar system
  • /recent planetary facts learned
  • the mysteries of what we see on planets and their satellites
  • /the Earth's magnetic field
  • oxygen atmosphere
  • elements of the planets
  • planetary rotations
  • planetary rotations
  • Vulcan
  • Venus and Mercury
  • /physical properties of Mercury
  • Mercury's thin sodium and potassium atmosphere
  • the sun and the planets as seen from Mercury, with an 88 day rotation period
  • determination of the rotation period of Mercury
  • /atmosphere and properties of Venus
  • comparing the geology of Venus and Earth
  • new information about Venus from the Pioneer 12 spacecraft
  • trying to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun
  • Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system
  • elementary makeup of Earth
  • /examining the length of the day
  • satellites of Mars
  • surface of Mars
  • satellites of Mars
  • satellites of Mars
  • satellites of Mars
  • organics in Martian satellites
  • Soviet and U.S. efforts to explore Mars
  • Mars's satellite Phobos grows closer to Mars
  • conditions for life on Mars
  • possibilities of Martian life
  • canals and inteligent life on Mars
  • large asteroids
  • large asteroids
  • Earth-grazers
  • it makes sense to detect objects that might collide with the Earth
  • tracking asteroids and meteoroids
  • mass extinctions/asteroid collision
  • asteroids and the mass-extinction theory
  • chance of Earth's collision with asteroid
  • we need protection from a meteor strike
  • Trojan (Lagrangian) locations for asteroids
  • dealing with the close asteroids
  • finding asteroids, both close and curious
  • repeating an entreaty for an asteroid sentinel
  • making use of the asteroids near us
  • the danger of eccentric asteroids
  • discovery of and properties of asteroids
  • are Martian satellites captured carbonaceous asteroids?
  • planet Jupiter
  • Jupiter's satellites
  • Jupiter's satellites
  • Jupiter's satellites
  • /Jupiter's moon Io
  • /Great Red Spot of Jupiter
  • ice on Jupiter's satellites
  • the space probe Galileo will examine Jupiter
  • Jupiter's moons compared to the Earth's
  • physical properties of Jupiter
  • surprising view of the sky from the satellites of Jupiter
  • problems of and ideas for visiting Jupiter
  • Saturn and its rings
  • Saturn's satellite Titan
  • new information on Titan's atmosphere
  • the shape of Mimas, Saturn's satellite
  • Saturn's Titan and Neptune's Triton may have gasoline oceans
  • Saturn's rings are probably transient phenomena
  • what's in the atmosphere of Saturn's satellite Titan
  • Saturn's Great White Spot
  • Saturn's moon Iapetus has a bright half and a dark half
  • what was known about Saturn in 1979
  • discovery of Uranus
  • Uranus' rings; Chiron
  • /details of Uranus
  • picking names for Uranus' satellites
  • Uranus was reported as a star before it was recognized as a planet
  • Uranus and its rings
  • discovery of Neptune
  • the variability of Neptune's satellite Nereid
  • some names for Neptune's satellites seem poorly chosen
  • surprising features of Neptune's satellite Triton
  • what little is known about Neptune
  • Pluto
  • discovery of Pluto
  • /details of Pluto, with addendum
  • Pluto-Charon double planet eclipses
  • the debate about calling Pluto a planet
  • information from eclipsing of planets
  • Pluto and its moon Charon
  • details of Pluto and its satellite, Charon
  • tenth planet
  • /the outer planets; existence of a tenth planet
  • the search for a tenth planet
  • comets/cometary planetoids
  • /comets & asteroids (M. Abraham)
  • Chiron, a comet or asteroid past Saturn
  • the birth and death of comets
  • watching comets come close to the Sun
  • Chiron and ideas about short-lived comets
  • comets, asteroids, and small outer planets
  • the outer belt of icy planets and comets
  • the structure and origin of comets
  • formation of comets and some history of their discovery
  • comets and their role in science fiction
  • the comet Kohoutek
  • /Halley's comet and other comets
  • /Halley's comet visits
  • space probes for Comet Halley
  • a close study of Halley's comet yields answers and questions
  • estimates of the cometary Oort cloud
  • /mass extinctions by meteors
  • Earth-grazers
  • micrometeorites
  • /collisions between planetesimals and Earth
  • meteorites on the antarctic ice
  • meteorites from Moon and Mars
  • what we learn from meteorites
  • meteorite hunting on Antarctica
  • analysis of meteorites shows a complex origin
  • the origin of materials falling onto the Earth
  • meteorites from Mars in Antarctica
  • observing starlight from outside the Solar system to avoid zodiacal light
  • /clouds of gas in space
  • /analysis of gas clouds in space
  • interstellar dust
  • the origin of dust in space around the Earth
  • names of stars
  • zodiac
  • Alpha Centauri
  • /Sirius and other near stars
  • /Barnard's star
  • /wobbling orbit of Barnard's star
  • /Betelgeuse (largest apparent star)
  • /living near Betelgeuse
  • a surprising ancient description of Sirius as a red star
  • /the end product of fission and fusion is iron-56; types of supernovas
  • maps have 19 million stars; a fraction of the visible stars
  • distance to the planets and stars
  • /small stars and planets are more numerous than larger ones
  • /large stars and the mass-luminosity law
  • an object in between a planet and a star
  • a theory limiting the size of stars is revived
  • luminosity of the stars
  • /Sirius-B, the dark companion
  • the highest orbit speed ever observed is in a binary star system
  • Cepheid variables/measuring galactic distances
  • /variable stars, finding galaxies
  • planet formation around Vega
  • Polaris and other Cepheid variable stars
  • white dwarfs
  • collapsed stars
  • black holes
  • size of black holes
  • speculations on using black holes
  • finding miniature black holes
  • Seyfert galaxies; enormous black holes
  • confirmation that Cygnus X-1 is a black hole
  • an odd theory puts black holes inside the Earth
  • black holes' effect on their neighborhood
  • the evidence for a black hole vs. a star cluster at the galactic center
  • black holes; what they are and what they may mean to us
  • description of black holes; discovery of one in Cygnus called Cygnus X-1
  • the first brown dwarf planet is reported
  • the search for brown dwarf objects
  • the life cycle of stars and brown dwarfs
  • /pulse rate of pulsars
  • more very dense objects are being discovered
  • discovery of pulsars
  • using pulsars for energy generation
  • using pulsars as clocks
  • the pulsar left from the 1987 supernova
  • neutron stars and the discovery of a pulsar in the Crab Nebula
  • /watching for supernovas
  • /the brightest novas in history
  • an object which may be pre-nova
  • the closest supernova in over 300 years
  • backlighting from the 1987 supernova
  • the Crab supernova was seen by native Americans
  • a type I supernova may have started our solar system
  • the 1987 supernova provided a distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud
  • white dwarfs
  • the mystery of white dwarf star varieties
  • globular clusters help estimate distance
  • evolution of the word galaxy
  • galactic nomenclature
  • the surprising distribution of galaxies
  • puzzles of galaxy distribution
  • discovery of a luminous arc that partially encircled a galaxy
  • what would happen if our galaxy collided with another
  • the consequences of colliding galaxies; the possibility of antimatter galaxies
  • galaxy rotation and other activity
  • watching a galaxy in formation
  • the 1991 discovery of a bright object could upset theories of galaxy formation
  • /galaxies and the Milky Way
  • /size of our galaxy
  • the evolution of galaxies and quasars
  • recession of the galaxies
  • /detecting galactic recession by the Doppler-Fizeau effect
  • a newly discovered dwarf galaxy in the Local Group of galaxies
  • galactic explosions
  • /Andromeda nebula, galaxy debate
  • gravity between huge galactic clusters
  • galactic clusters at great distance and age
  • red shifts of distant quasars 17 billion light years away
  • the unevenness of quasar distribution is a mystery
  • examining the thin dust in space
  • estimating distance by galaxies' spectra
  • /eras of the universe compressed into a single year
  • /the universe has fractal complexity
  • a new answer to Olbers' paradox: insufficient time for the sky to brighten
  • a computer simulation of the early universe
  • studying conditions of the early universe
  • it is meaningless to ask what lies beyond the universe
  • we have no evidence hyperspace exists or allows rapid space travel
  • continuous creation
  • estimating the age of the universe
  • the anthropic principle and the existence of the universe
  • origin of the universe
  • origin of the universe
  • /early universe speculations
  • inflationary theory of the origin of the universe
  • did radiation cause matter coalescence?
  • new half-life measures of neutrons support the big-bang theory
  • neutronium may have been the substance that made up the primordial universe
  • continuous creation vs. the Big Bang
  • several variations on the "Big-Bang" cosmogony considered
  • the Big Bang
  • picturing the scale of the universe
  • /observations of the farthest reaches of the universe
  • /oscillating universe, missing mass
  • /final state of the universe
  • disappearing protons could end the universe
  • expanding universe
  • size of the universe
  • /expansion of the universe
  • the size of the universe
Essays about physics
  • square-cube law of size
  • miniaturization
  • /power generation on the Moon
  • /action at a distance
  • people who believe they have ideas that scientists haven't considered
  • losing the meaning of "clockwise" in a digital world
  • detecting the decay of protons on the Moon
  • evidence for impact theory of extinction
  • the need for tritium and the lack of a supply of it
  • determining the age of universe by three methods
  • dinosaur bone protein is 150 million years old
  • a dating method that uses protein in egg shells
  • high density quark stars may throw off bits of themselves
  • in an oscillating universe, averaged over all time, nothing happens
  • the role of axioms as tools for scientific understanding
  • jets and rockets
  • size and distance, near and far
  • the discovery of nature's rhythms
  • particles and forces included in theories of the universe's composition
  • Einstein's contributions to science
  • Einstein's important contributions to physics
  • conservation laws
  • /conservation of momentum; rockets
  • /conservation of energy
  • leap year adjustments
  • old measurement systems
  • metric system
  • an argument for the metric system
  • Avogadro's number
  • perturbations
  • mass and the fabric of space
  • mass of the Earth
  • escape velocities/gravitational attraction
  • escape velocity
  • /prediction and discovery of antiparticles
  • maintaining antimatter existence
  • particle/antiparticle source of energy
  • elements named after geographic locations
  • elements of the body
  • elements in the ocean
  • meson lifetimes show that time dilation near light speed is real
  • /explaining relativity
  • relativity and the twin paradox
  • time measure and relativity
  • /testing general relativity
  • proving that the principle of equivalence holds for antimatter
  • the special theory of relativity and high-speed travel
  • tests of relativity's bizarre predictions continue to prove them correct
  • review of two books that explain relativity
  • Planck's constant
  • uncertainty principle
  • uncertainty principle
  • conservation of parity
  • conservation of parity
  • absolute zero
  • lowering temperature near absolute zero
  • lack of violations proves the exclusion principle
  • luminiferous ether
  • Michelson-Morley experiment
  • gravitation
  • gravitation
  • /inertial-gravitational equivalence
  • differences in inertia and gravitation
  • detecting gravitational waves
  • echo location
  • temperature extremes/temperature measurement
  • entropy
  • the second law of thermodynamics precludes time travel
  • energy and the second law of thermodynamics
  • Maxwell's demon
  • the physics that make superluminal travel impossible
  • unlikely possibilities of faster-than-light travel
  • Doppler-Fizeau effect
  • speed of light
  • speed of light
  • speed of light
  • light polarization
  • /electromagnetic spectrum
  • /visible light spectrum
  • light spectra
  • luminescence, fluorescence, and the light of fireflies
  • /Blondlot's supposed discovery of N-rays
  • /radioactivity dating
  • dating early hominids to 5 million years ago
  • uranium breakdown sets the age of the oldest rocks at 4 billion years
  • advances in and the potential of superconductivity
  • recipe for superconductivity
  • easier superconductivity
  • /measurement of time
  • lasers
  • light, lasers, and holograms
  • /energy and the magnetic monopole
  • /iron and magnetism
  • tissue radioactivity
  • larger particle accelerators
  • radioactivity
  • ultrashort time periods/subatomic particle lifetimes
  • measuring ultrashort events
  • the Manhattan project
  • /the race to get the A-bomb
  • nuclear structure
  • a brief history of discoveries in nuclear physics
  • atomic weights
  • particle accelerators
  • accelerating larger particles
  • hydrogen fusion
  • /errors in science
  • fusion achieved by colliding deuterium compounds may hold promise
  • power from fusion
  • fusion may provide the answer to our energy problems by the year 2020
  • fusion at low temperature
  • cold fusion, like Martian canals, N-rays, and polywater, seems dubious
  • /delving inside atoms
  • delving into the atom
  • a list of fundamental particles
  • atoms, photons, neutrinos, and quarks
  • elementary particles and the top quark
  • firing electrons into a proton to see quarks inside
  • /X rays, gamma rays, cosmic rays
  • /cosmic rays, neutrinos, and muons
  • /properties of cosmic rays
  • mesons
  • types of neutrinos
  • /proton decay
  • tachyons
  • string theories of subatomic particles
  • breakdown of selenium-82 by double-beta decay
  • natural radioactivity
  • natural radioactivity
  • /nuclear details of radioisotopes
  • /carbon-14 dating
  • revising ice age time by carbon 14 dating
  • carbon-14 dating
  • Earth's water
  • needs for and sources of fresh water
  • rerouting rivers for fresh water
  • carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
  • upper atmosphere/atmospheric properties
  • the atmosphere of the Earth and planets
  • stages of development in Earth's atmosphere
  • greenhouse effect/causes of ice ages
  • carbon dioxide and ice ages
  • controlling global ice levels
  • thawing the arctic ocean ice
  • clear evidence of the greenhouse effect
  • the greenhouse effect and global warming crisis
  • water's presence, makeup, uses, and importance to man
Essays about chemistryEssays about geology and dinosaursEssays about biologyEssays about zoologyEssays about physiologyEssays about microbiologyEssays about technology and space

Can you imagine a world where everything was named as blandly as possible?

“Come here, Pet.”

“Hey, Maternal Grandmother, could I get your recipe for Casserole?”

Book about a Long Journey is pretty much the best thing I’ve ever read.”

“I love shopping at Clothing Store at Mall—its Regular Jeans are to die for.”

Meh. Yawn. Zzzzzz.

Now you understand the crushing ennui your teacher feels flipping through a stack of essays entitled “Narrative Essay” or “Essay 4,” “Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry,” or worst of all, the dreaded “Untitled.”

Boring, right? No wonder it takes three weeks to get them graded and handed back!

So how do you make your essay the shining gem in the rough, the beacon that keeps your teacher from falling asleep in yet another puddle of coffee and tears during hours-long grading marathons?

We’ll get there. First, let’s discuss why essay titles matter in the first place.

Why Are Essay Titles Important?

The title of an essay occupies a pretty sweet spot: front and center, first page. This is a position of prestige and privilege. It just begs to be read.

Old-timey cover page optional.

Don’t waste this opportunity to make a good first impression!

Much like a hook sentence, a title should snag the attention of your readers and make them want to read more.

Most importantly, the title—even a short one—can give readers a lot of context about an essay. Good essay titles not only identify the essay’s subject, but they can also give readers clues about important elements of the essay:

  • tone (Is it serious or irreverent?)
  • structure (Is it argumentative? Are you comparing and contrasting?)
  • angle/stance (Are you in favor of something or against it?)

So what goes into a mind-blowingly good essay title? Keep reading to find out!

What Are the Essential Elements of Good Essay Titles?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to titling essays. While a one-word title might work for some essays, others practically beg for long, descriptive ones.

That said, there are a few qualities that most good essay titles share:.

1. A good essay title identifies the subject.

It probably seems obvious that a title should give the reader at least a hint about the essay’s subject, but you’d be surprised how often it doesn’t! I’ve edited plenty of essays with titles like “Analysis Essay,” “History,” or “Assignment 5.”

Not only are these boring, but they’re completely vague and nonspecific.

2. A great title establishes the tone of the essay.

In addition to telling readers what an essay is about, really great titles also help to set the tone or mood of the essay. A forceful, direct title is perfect for an angry rant or a somber piece of persuasion.

Titles with puns or other fun wordplay, on the other hand, suggest that the reader can take the piece a little less seriously.

3. Good essay titles are specific.

It’s possible for a title to establish both the tone and subject … but in a vague way. For instance, “A Scholarly Examination of Chinese Art” identifies a subject and a tone, but if the essay actually focuses on fifteenth-century Chinese pottery, specificity is lacking.

A more specific essay title would be “A Scholarly Examination of Fifteenth-Century Chinese Pottery.”

4. A great essay title is attractive to the intended audience.

Last but not least, a title should be attractive and interesting—but most importantly, it should be attractive and interesting to the audience for whom it was written.

For example, a playful and punny title might fall flat for a stodgy, humorless professor—you know the type.

In this case, it’s better to be straightforward and descriptive—but that doesn’t have to mean boring.

On the other hand, your creative writing instructor would probably appreciate a bit of clever wordplay.

This aspect of title-writing requires you to know your audience and make a judgment call regarding the type of title your readers will find engaging. But it’s totally worth it when you snag a big, fat ‘A,’ right?

Now that you know what goes into a good title, let’s look at some strategies for writing titles that meet these criteria.

Tips and Tricks for Writing Good Essay Titles

Now that you know the different components of a solid title, how do you actually write one?

Here are a few tips and tricks to help. For each of the following tips, I’ve also shared one or more relevant examples from the Kibin essay database.

Use subtitles to your advantage

Many essay titles have both a main title as well as a secondary title that elaborates a bit on the first part.

Consider the late David Foster Wallace’s essay Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise. Alone, neither part of that title would meet all the criteria I listed earlier. Yet together, they create a title that’s almost irresistible. (What was “nearly lethal”? I have to know!)

Essay database example: Wrap It Up: An Ode to the Burrito

Sum it up

Another strategy for writing good essay titles is to choose two or three words that sum up the main ideas of the essay—bonus points if these words seem oddly juxtaposed as this creates interest and attraction. Just be sure that they’re relevant.

While they aren’t essays, Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel and Chuck Klosterman’s essay collection Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs are both fantastic examples of this titling strategy in action. How could you pass those up?

Essay database example: Scalpel, Forceps, Empathy: How My College Experiences Are Preparing Me to Become a Competent Doctor

Take a page (well, a phrase) from someone else’s book

Sometimes, great titles are right under your nose—maybe even in the text you’re analyzing. An especially provocative or descriptive line can really set the tone for your essay and save you a bit of brainstorming.

And sometimes, you may find inspiration from a piece of writing that you aren’t writing about. Consider Joan Didion’s famous essay collection and the essay of the same name, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The title of this work was inspired by the last line of William Butler Yeats’ poem The Second Coming.

One thing to remember, though: if your snippet is a direct quotation, be sure to place it in quotation marks, as in the example below.

Essay database example: “Dark of the Invisible Moon”: Imagery in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

Get punny (if appropriate)

Clever wordplay has its place, including in essay titles. That said, there’s a fine line between funny and corny. Not all topics or essays are suited for a funny title. Use your best judgment, and keep your audience in mind.

Consider Donovan Hohn’s Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea & of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists & Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them. The title is cheeky yet descriptive and suits the subject well.

You can also balance your wit with a more buttoned-up subtitle to ensure that your work is still taken seriously. For instance, consider David Walter Toews’ book titled The Origin of Feces: What Excrement Tells Us about Evolution, Ecology, and a Sustainable Society.

Essay database example: Secrets of the C.I.A.: America’s Premier Chef’s School

Be provocative

Sometimes, the best essay title is simply a provocative statement that makes the reader feel just a tiny bit defensive or that speaks to an opinion the reader also holds. This titling strategy works especially well for argumentative and persuasive essays, in which you simply state your argument in the title. Pamela Druckerman’s Why French Parents Are Superioris a good example of such a title.

However, other types of non-argumentative yet controversial statements can also work. Consider Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian, a title that would have been particularly controversial in 1927, when it was originally published, or Mathew Ingram’s Is the Internet Making Us Smarter or Dumber? Yes.

Essay database example: Why Donald Trump Will Never Be President of the United States

Bonus tip: Study great titles

If you really want to improve your title-writing game, figure out what makes you want to read an essay or article. Scroll through an online magazine that tickles your fancy—The New Yorker, the Opinion section of The Wall Street JournalRookie, and Rolling Stone all publish great essays—and figure out what makes you want to click on a title.

This I Believe is another great source of inspiration, especially for titling personal essays. Check out the titles of the most viewed essays, and consider which ones you want to read and why.

Parting Thoughts

Ultimately, writing good essay titles takes time and practice. In fact, some bloggers spend halfthe time it takes to create a piece of writing working on the title.

While this is definitely overkill for a school assignment—after all, you’re not necessarily competing for attention among thousands of other writers—it gives you an idea of just how important the title is.

But most importantly, you have the strategies you need to give your essay the name it deserves. And if you’re not sure if your title fits your paper or really reels the reader in, ask a Kibin editor for an honest opinion—we’re always happy to help!

Happy writing!

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