How to create titles for textbook chapters and sections

Assigning titles to chapters and sections is an important part publishingof the craft of textbook writing as titles draw readers in, give students a preview of what they will learn, and reflect the organization of the book. In order to create the best titles possible, authors Vivian Bernstein, Paul Chance, and Dana Loewy recommend that textbook authors focus on making their titles interesting, informative, easily understood, and brief.

  • Interesting. All three authors stressed the importance of sparking student interest with an intriguing title. For example, one chapter of Bernstein’s Content Area Reading Success, a textbook for middle school students, focuses on the American Revolution and contains a section entitled “No British Taxes!” to catch the student’s eye. In Business Communication: Process and Product, Loewy and her coauthor Mary Ellen Guffey use humor to pique student interest in a student activity called “Surviving a Social Business Function.”
  • Informative. The authors also agreed that while the titles of textbook chapters and sections should be intriguing, they must also let readers know what to expect from the content. For example, in Learning & Behavior, Chance uses the title “Tips for Shapers” for a section that gives recommendations on how to modify behavior through reinforcement; Bernstein’s label for a section on the daily efforts of the human heart is “100,000 Times Each Day.”
  • Easily understood. Titles should be grammatically simple and should use terms with which the student is already familiar.
  • Brief. Loewy tries to keep all her titles to eight words or less, while Bernstein suggests keeping titles to one line of text in order to stay within the layout developed by the publisher.

In addition to the tips above, each author has his or her own unique piece of advice for developing great titles. Bernstein tries to avoid questions as chapter and section titles because she wants her readers to generate their own questions about the content as part of the active reading process.

Chance focuses primarily on the student when developing chapter and section titles, but he also considers instructors who may adopt his books: “Instructors need to be able see whether a text covers what they teach and what perspective the author takes; section titles can help them see that.”

Loewy uses dynamic verbs frequently to foster a sense of action rather than stasis in her titles. She also tries to keep the flow of titles consistent by maintaining parallel grammatical constructions throughout the headings within a chapter or section as much as possible. For example, if an initial section is labeled “Preparing to Write Formal Reports,” subsequent sections would be “Researching Secondary Data” and “Generating Primary Data.”

About Dionne Soares Palmer

Freelance writer specializing in college textbook supplements and other educational materials for adult learners.