Are your headings helpful?

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 2.4.3.2.1 followed by 2.4.3.2.2 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.

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