Ask the MLAin-text citationstitles of worksusing sourceswriting tips
Do I introduce an author’s full name and the full title of a work in each chapter of a book or dissertation?
It depends on the focus of your work. In a dissertation on a single author or title—say, Gabriel Marcel’s Being and Having: An Existentialist Diary—it would be overkill to introduce the author and full title of the work anew in each chapter. References to the author’s last name and a shortened title are sufficient.
But if your work focuses more broadly, use judgment. For example, in a book primarily discussing a few core texts—say, Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—subsequent references to Woolf’s Room, Forster’s Passage, and Joyce’s Portrait are likely sufficient, even if, for clarity, the other, ancillary primary and secondary works you discuss are reintroduced in full when first mentioned in each chapter.
In a topical work—say, on the representations of funerals in dozens of works or on poets of the beat generation—you would likely want to reintroduce authors and texts in full when first mentioned in each chapter.
Clarity for readers is the ultimate goal, but so too is avoiding trying their patience.
Published 12 September 2017
There was a suggestion about putting [Location] or [Time] in the title, and I feel that such a scheme is closely related to scientific or other "purposeful" literature. The information given may replace description within the chapter, saving space and providing structure. In prose, using such explicit data in title format can be used to underline a main trait of a text. The format fits well with:
- short texts - whose confined space may dictate efficiency;
- diary types and journey plots: formats that commonly use this scheme;
overall technical mindset (beaurocracy, logistics company, main character ...).
In all of those cases, leading each chapter with a statement of setting is perfectly justified.
Without such context, however, I would fail to see the point in providing that kind of detail in the title section of a narrative chapter. This can be misleading, too. For example,
(A/The) House at the sea
... seriously evokes images for readers who have been to the sea - but these may be the wrong images, as a more detailed description will ensue in the chapter, possibly causing friction with what the reader already expected. This title is better suited for a book cover where there will be an accompanying picture. Here, it contains a high risk of annoying the reader during the course of the chapter, because they did not choose to create the wrong assumptions - the author did!
Instead, for most kinds of narration a less informative, more interesting title could work well. Why is that? Assuming that story telling should be entertaining (to make the reader want to continue, because they are not obligated to read) - and considering that titles are not compulsory - quickly doubt will arise in sight of any flat, descriptive or commonplace titles: Why do they exist in the first place? Such doubts hurt the experience, and I conclude that titles for a narrative chapter should strive to be interesting.
Now, what is interesting? Humor helps, but many unexpected connections will work. Anything unclear, ambiguous or encrypted - that which needs further information to be put together. Note that your title, in order to be rewarding, should have potential to create a moment of satisfaction, when after staying unclear first, suddenly interacts with an ongoing development inside the chapter.
Although 'yogurt' turned out to be a typo, I'll use it for my some examples anyway:
A case of yogurt
... this one is not interesting, a very generic and meager title. Alas, sometimes inventing titles for every chapter is a burden. Certainly, nothing is wrong about a less interesting title here and there - pick a plot element and wrap it up in a phrase, when nothing else works. But if you do, make it count! Reading the expression "a case of X", a reader can expect a plot element to go down the crime/analytical route, or to be a parody thereof. Or both. If the chapter meets one of those expectations, the title has a reason to exist.
(To thicken the promise, there is also the secondary meaning of "case". If any case gets carried or lost somewhere in the chapter, the title will bear more fruits.)
... more curious, suggests either a form of drug theme (dependancy, with yogurt as a placeholder), or a depiction of special human relationships (that are somehow similar to yogurt). Or more. The word "dependancy" gravitates towards serious business, but not necessarily. Could also be a hint to a programmer's unsolved yogurt problem.
Yogurt on the top shelf
... this time, yogurt (not a placeholder) is set in an odd location. Implying it was put there momentarily, the yogurt may be the object of a kid's or cat's longing inability to reach that yogurt - or, on the opposite, it may be the victim of someone's bad memory. In that case, the yogurt may have become rotten, a source of disgust, a symbol for a being without purpose. Or more. A very plot-oriented, motivating and potentially insightful title, that could expand the plot.
(Note that "top shelf" will be misleading if the chapter has no shopping mall. It shows again how concrete data is a risk in titles. Try to validate the obvious meanings your title could have, if any. Or confirm the setting in the very first sentence.)