Headings and Subheadings: How to Facilitate Effective Skimming

Properly constructed headings and subheadings promote easy skimming for readers. Headings are similar to a title and are used at the beginning of a main section; whereas, subheadings are used to subdivide longer sections. Treat headings like a brief sentence that summarizes the content they reference to make them effective. Your headings and subheading guide your reader’s attention like a roadmap. Vague headings forces someone to read further to figure out the meaning of the section, and this can cause a person to lose interest. If reading the document is not mandatory, your important message could be ignored.


Good Formatting Guides Readers      

Guiding your reader’s attention depends partly on the style of the headings and subheadings. Generally, headings are slightly larger than subheadings as shown in the headings of this blog. They need to use font sizes that are larger by at least two points than the font size used for your text. A simple typeface, referred to as sans serif, is recommended for use with headings that use a larger font. Arial is a good example of a sans serif typeface which lacks the extra crosslines and tails at the bottom of the letters that serif typefaces use, such as Times New Roman. If you choose to use style templates, they will offer appropriate typefaces to use for your headings and subheadings. However, when writing a technical paper, the use of a basic, black, bold typeface for your headings is the best choice.


Parallelism Keeps Headings Uniform

Keep the format of your headings and subheadings parallel in both style and wording. For example, using the words efficient and effectively in a heading is not parallel structuring. You would need to present the words with a similar ending such as efficiently and effectively to create parallel wording. Likewise, the style of your headings must be the same throughout your work to be parallel. For example, all of my headings begin with a descriptive word or a noun. If you introduce your headings using the definite article the followed by a subject, then continue with that pattern throughout your document to keep it parallel.



White Space Sets Headings Apart

Equally important, effective headings and subheadings are bold and use white space to help guide your reader’s eye. Leaving enough space around the text of your heading makes it easier for the reader to take in the information. Make sure that the space clearly defines where your headings and subheadings belong. Either too much or not enough white space can detract from your work and misdirect the reader. Overall, white space gives your reader’s eye a chance to rest in between sections of the document and keeps it organized which is also displayed in the example above.


Practice Improves Your Style

Through my experiences of writing reports as a senior at the University of South Florida, I have learned that the use of effective headings and subheadings facilitates the navigation of your work for others. They give your reports a professional look and organize the data that they contain. Also, your audience recognizes that you respect their time by using effective headings and subheadings to guide their eye for effective skimming. Of course, improving such skills in writing comes from practice, research, and reading others’ work.

Deborah Millett is a Senior at the University of South Florida working toward a bachelors degree in Accounting. While currently employed as a full-time Accounts Payable Clerk at Withlacoochee River Electric Co-op, she is striving to move ahead in the accounting department.

One thought on “Headings and Subheadings: How to Facilitate Effective Skimming

  1. Deborah, what caught my attention about this blog was the word “skimming” in your title. I like to skim to find out the important information. You are right on point with saying readers lose interest when the headings are vague. I am a visual person and your video helped me further understand what you were saying. I am not good a creating subheadings and headings and with your blog and references I can work on those.

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