Effective Use of Headings

Whether you are creating a personal resume, addressing customers, or writing to other stakeholders, well-designed and well-positioned headings make documents more inviting and readable: headings are what immediately pops out and meets the reader’s eye. The following guidelines will help you more effectively employ headers in your writing.

Know Your Audience

Headings are useful to grab readers’ attention and attract diverse viewers, including competitors and audiences with opposing views. When considering how to write and place headings, maintain focus on who will be reading your content. What organizations, individuals, clients, and other stakeholders will be interested? Also ask yourself what key words, phrases, and ideas will be most attractive to your specific audience(s). At the same time, consider the core of your message or the overarching idea of your text. What are the main points you want to express, and how will your headings convey your purpose and objective? Remember that headings should also account for ways audiences differ. It is important to consider what your audience already knows about your topic, how they might respond to your message, and objections diverse viewers may have.

Establish An Appropriate Tone

What is the tone of the content you want to convey? To answer this question, consider your purpose and your audience. To what community or individuals are you writing (e.g., colleagues of your business, tech savvy customers, academic fields)?

Consider Placement

Where is your audience most likely to look, and what are they trying to find? Consider where your headings will appear in the document (as well as where the document itself will appear). Is the title for the homepage of a website, for a section of a page, or for the title of an article? When writing articles or authoring websites, choose key words and phrases that people might be more likely to search for on the internet (e.g., “business,” “writing,” “audience”). Keep this strategy in mind for title pages and home pages, and for specific sections or pages within a text.

Employ Strong Verbs

Though you may be tempted to say more, try to make your headings as concise as possible. Also, carefully choose strong verbs that most accurately describe your topic. Compare these examples:

Maintain Parallel Structure

Parallel structure means using the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance. This can happen at the word, phrase, or clause level. Parallel structure assists readers because it allows them to anticipate the meaning and purpose of your message. These examples show headings lacking and using parallel structure:

Howe Writing Initiative ‧ Farmer School of Business ‧ Miami University

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