Why have headings?
We live in a sound bite world. People want information in short memorable chunks. And they want it now.
So, headings should summarize for your readers the section that follows, and whet their curiosity.
Headings are your sound bites
Your headings should ideally be sound bites for your topic, your opportunity to ‘speak’ to the reader, and they should be as appealing as you can make them. That way you will inspire people to read on, and make their task easier and pleasanter.
Take a tip from the newspapers
Try imagining a newspaper without headlines. How would any reader know which articles they wanted to read? Your headings serve exactly the same purpose as newspaper headlines. They direct readers to what interests them.
Not everyone will read everything you’ve written. They’ll pick and choose and they’ll skim. It’s your job to direct them to the information most relevant to them personally.
Good headings help them see at a glance where and what that is. And they’ll feel pleased that you’ve helped them extract the information they want as quickly as possible.
Headings help you plan
But headings don’t just help your readers: they help you too.
First, they are a great tool for planning in outline what you’re going to write about. (And planning is essential.)
Actually, I suggest you write your headings before you write anything else.
As you write them, your document is already taking shape before your eyes, which is very motivating. Also, by dealing with only the headings, you avoid getting bogged down in wording and grammar issues.
Second, headings assist you in organizing your thoughts so as to create a structure for your document. If you use ‘Outline View’ in Word, you can upgrade, downgrade or change the order of headings in your hierarchy of information.
Finally, headings help you be sure you have covered everything you should, and left out what you do not need.
Using your headings to give you a clear structure before you start writing detailed content will save you time and effort in rewriting and researching.
If you have any outstanding examples of headings, I’d love to see them.