Constructing a Title
Use the formula “TC: SUM,” which means: a Twisted Cliché, followed by a colon, followed by a Summary.
1. Twisted Cliché
A “cliché” is a phrase or expression that we have nearly all heard at some time. It frequently has a figurative meaning rather than literally meaning what it says. If I were to accept something “hook, line, and sinker,” that does not literally mean that I swallowed fishing equipment. It means, figuratively, that I accepted without questioning or believed fully something that may turn out to be dubious. Anyway, a cliché is a group of words that, “if you’ve heard them once, you’ve heard them a million times.” A “twisted cliché” is a cliché that you change or “twist” to fit your own purposes (in this case, to fit the main idea of your essay). For example, “Two’s company; three’s a crowd” is a common cliché. A way to twist it (and its meaning) might be the following: “Two’s company; three’s a party.”
The point to twisting a cliché is to make it fresh, different, and noticeable, and to make it say what you want it to say, while reminding the reader of the original cliché.
Guidelines for twisting a cliché:
The longer the cliché, the easier it is to twist:
“Running around like a chicken with its head cut off” is a long cliché, “Just do it” is too short to twist effectively.
Replace one or only a very few of the key words of the cliché (the fewer the better; in fact, if you can change one letter and still make it fit your purpose, so much the better):
“Running around like a teacher with his head cut off” changes a key element and a minor one in this cliché.
Or truncate or shorten a cliché and let the reader fill in the blank:
“Like a chicken:” or “With Its Head Cut Off:”
Or rearrange the elements:
“Running around like a head with its chicken cut off” (I didn't say it had to be a literary gem, just twisted).
We should be able to identify the original cliché after you change it:
“Dining Like A Man With An Appetite Suppressant” does not look enough like the original “chicken with its head cut off” cliché above for me to recognize it.
Here is the process for twisting a cliché for your title:
Decide or identify what your essay or writing is about, what the main point is, or what the main idea is, and try to put into one word or a series of single ideas:
What is my paper about? Let's see, it’s about “improving the education system.” I can sum that idea up with words like “learning,” “improving,” “making life better,” “changing the system,” and so on.
Try to recall (or brainstorm with unwitting classmates, or look up in a dictionary of clichés) as many clichés that apply to each idea or term above:
For the idea “learning” here are some clichés:
- “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” or
- “the light bulb came on” or
- “to throw new light on the subject;”
For the idea “improving” or “making life better:”
- “this is as good as it gets” or
- “if at first you don't succeed, try, try again” or
- “every cloud has a silver lining;”
For the idea “changing the system:”
- “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” or
- “you can’t change city hall” or
- “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”
Note that these don't have to be literary gems either, nor do they have to be exactly matched to your subject, just “close enough for government work”.
Pick one of the clichés you remember. I like the “old dogs/new tricks” cliché above in this case because it can apply to all the basic ideas I stated that my paper might be about.
Now twist the cliché you choose according to the rules for twisting a cliché:
You Can't Teach An Old Student New Tricks,
New Tricks for an Old Dog,
Old Dogs and New Tricks
So for the cliché side of the title, I will probably use:
Old Dogs and New Tricks
The "summary" side of your title is just that: In about 10 words or fewer, summarize your entire essay in straightforward, literal language; tell me what the writing is about or what it is going to do.
I want to summarize what my paper is about. One way to start a title summary is “A Look At” or “An Essay Exploring” or “An Analysis Of”, and later removing that part if the summary seems too long.
So a summary of what my paper is about might go like this:
“[A Look At] Improving Education through Increased Teacher Training”
When I remove the bracketed material, it still sounds like it describes an essay.
Now put the parts of the title together, separating the parts with a colon:
Old Dogs and New Tricks: Improving Education
Through Increased Teacher Training
Note the following:
- There is a twisted cliché, followed by a colon, followed by a summary.
- Capitalize key words
- Center the title
- No quotation marks before and after the title
- Not all caps
- No period after the title
Sample Title Page