From Theory to Practice
This lesson asks students to examine two sets of stories that author Raymond Carver renamed in revision: Popular Mechanics, which he renamed Little Things, and Everything Stuck to Him, which he renamed Distance. After predicting what they stories Popular Mechanics and Little Things will be about based only on their titles, the class is divided in half, with each half reading one of the stories. Students discuss the significance of the titles in the two stories, unaware at first that the stories are the same. Next, students read Everything Stuck to Him and Distance, focusing on the significance of the two titles to determine how each title affects the reader's perception and understanding of the story. After reading and discussing the four stories, students write a reflective essay in which they defend their choice of a title for one of the two sets of Carver stories.
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Venn Diagram: Students can use this online tool to compare any two items, including short stories.
Essay Writing: Writers Checklist: This handout provides a checklist for writers to use as they compose any essay.
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FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
NCTE author and consultant Susanne Rubenstein relates a common frustration in her book Raymond Carver in the Classroom: "A Small Good Thing": "My students struggle to compose titles. Frequently I'm asked, Does it have to have a title?' and though I tell them, yes, and emphasize how important a title can be to the understanding of the work, they are often apt to leave a big blank space where the title should be. These two stories [Raymond Carver's Distance' and Everything Stuck to Him'] offer a persuasive example of how much a title can matter" (55-56). By prompting students to analyze Carver's own changes to his short story titles, this lesson helps students understand the importance of a title in relation both to the story unto itself and to a reader's response to the story. Students then are better prepared themselves to fill in that big blank space with thoughtfully chosen titles for their own written work.
Rubenstein, Susanne. 2005. Raymond Carver in the Classroom "A Small, Good Thing." Urbana, IL: NCTE.
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The instructions for titles, found on the AGU author instructions page, seem simple enough:
This isn’t much to go on, so let me fill in a few other pieces of advice about paper titles.
- Be specific and informative: being too vague in the title runs the risk that your target audience won’t be able to find it or realize it is relevant. Focus on the original contribution to the field, usually the main science point for a Research Article or new methodology for a Technical Reports paper.
- Be brief: Bibliometric researchers have investigated the optimal length for a paper title, with one study, that included over 400 Open Access journals, finding that shorter titles (below 95 characters) that focus on the results rather than the method yields more citations. Another study, focusing only on papers in the journal Cell, found that 30-50 characters yields maximal citations.
- Abbreviations and punctuation: as much as I dislike acronyms in titles, they are allowed in the title as long as they are defined in the Abstract. These usually refer to methodology, though, so I suggest omitting them unless absolutely necessary for context about the science finding. Punctuation, like colons, commas, hyphens, parentheses (used properly), and quotation marks are fine.
A good title is a balance between completeness and brevity while maintaining clarity. It is not an easy part of manuscript preparation, yet it is a critically important element of the final paper. Even before readers see the Significant Points, they see the title. Write it so that it catches the interest of all researchers that might find it useful for their studies.
Posted in Manuscript Prep