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There are several strategies you can explore to help you engage closely with the essay title.

Rephrase it

Once you have identified the type of essay title you have been set, you could try rephrasing it as a different type of title. For example, 'real' questions can be reworked as instructions and vice versa; implied titles can be turned into into questions or instructions. This may have a number of advantages:

  • Reworking the essay title into a different format, and considering how far it can be reworded before it departs too much from the original sense of the title, can ensure that you are reading it carefully and have not missed any aspects. This can be particularly useful in an exam situation when you are under pressure.
  • You may have a strong preference about the type of essay title you find the most approachable, but you may be working with a title in one of the other formats, leaving you less clear about how to proceed. It may help to clarify the task for you if you reword the title in a format with which you are more comfortable. That may be especially helpful in the more open types of title, for example, the implied title or 'discuss' instructions, which do not state explicitly what you should do in concrete terms.
  • This strategy may be a starting point for your introduction. Basic advice for writing essay introductions often suggests that the student re-state the question. If you were to simply repeat the set question, or a slightly reworded version of it, this would be a poor strategy, not demonstrating that you had understood or engaged with the title. However, if you were to rework the title more freely in your own terms, it would both be a way of ensuring that you had engaged with it, considered the different approaches, or whether you had departed too much from the original sense, and would provide a useful way into the introduction, demonstrating to your reader your own individual interpretation of the title.

Examples of reworking an essay title: “Courtly poetry is vivid colour and utter desolation”. Discuss.

  • Why might courtly poetry be described as “vivid colour and utter desolation”?
  • Is it accurate to describe courtly poetry as both “vivid” and “desolate”?
  • To what extent might courtly poetry be considered both “vivid” and “desolate”?
  • Critically consider the view that courtly poetry is both “vivid” and “desolate”.


Rephrase the following title in as many different ways as you can - as closed and open questions, instructions and implied questions:

"In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer is constantly concerned with subverting expectations of genre". Discuss, taking your examples from two or more genres used by Chaucer.

Once you have some suggestions, click here to access some examples for comparison.