Headings are important in all documents, but particularly in long documents. Headings convey the structure and content of a document, let readers know where to find content easily and communicate the relative importance of content.
Getting the hierarchy of headings right helps your readers. The hierarchy of headings means how many levels of headings there are and the format or style of each level of heading. A thesis might use chapter headings, section headings and sub-section headings, as well as headings for tables and figures and Appendices.
The format of each heading should reflect its importance or place in the hierarchy. The most important headings may be a bigger size, in bold, a different font, in capital letters and/or numbered, with more white space above and below them. Less important headings may only use one or two of these elements to stand out from the text.
Tips for helpful headings
- Use the right number of words for the purpose: a helpful heading may be short or long.
- Ensure the headings stand out from the text.
- Avoid too many levels of numbered headings. Heading 188.8.131.52.1 followed by 184.108.40.206.2 may be just too much.
- Use Styles in Word (Heading 1, Heading 2) to ensure consistent formatting of headings throughout a document.
- Check the table of contents to see if all the headings work together.
You’ve been working on your document for ages. You are finally happy with it. You might even have had it edited by someone. Then you make some last minute changes.
Changes made at the last minute can be more likely to have mistakes for several reasons. You have not looked at these words as often as other parts of the document, and you may be making changes when you are tired, stressed or rushed.
Here’s what to look out for with last minute changes:
- If you change a date or spelling in one part of the document, check you have changed all occurrences throughout the document.
- If you re-arrange a sentence or a list, check the punctuation to ensure the full stop is not left out or duplicated.
- If you add a dot point to a list, check it is in the same style as the rest of the list and has the right punctuation.
- If you change a heading, check your capitalisation is consistent with other headings of the same level.
- If you change the tense in a sentence, check all the verbs have been changed and are consistent.
- If you change from plural to singular (or vice versa) in a sentence, check all verbs are consistent with the change.
- If you add or delete a table or figure, check any cross-references and numbering are updated.
- If you add an extra word, sentence or paragraph, check the spacing and pagination of the document. Does the text still fit? You may need to re-do the table of contents.