Chapter 4: Headings

Headings are the titles and subtitles you see within the actual text of much professional scientific, technical, and business writing. Headings are like the parts of an outline that have been pasted into the actual pages of a report or other document.

Headings are an important feature of professional technical writing: they alert readers to upcoming topics and subtopics, help readers find their way around in long reports and skip what they are not interested in, and break up long stretches of straight text.

Headings are also useful for writers. They keep you organized and focused on the topic. When you begin using headings, your impulse may be to slap in the headings after you've written the rough draft. Instead, visualize the headings before you start the rough draft, and plug them in as you write.

Your task in this chapter is to learn how to use headings and to learn the style and format of a specific design of headings that is standard for this course.

Note: Students enrolled in the online version of TCM1603 at Austin Community College, please take the reading quiz on this chapter. (Anybody else is welcome to try it as well.)

General Guidelines for Headings

In this chapter, and in this course, we use a specific style of headings. This style is standard, required format in this course. If you want to use a different style, contact your instructor. Here are some specific guidelines on headings (see Figures 4-1, 4-2, 4-3, and 4-4 for illustrations of these guidelines): Figure 4-1. Heading style and format, standard for TCM 1603. If you want to use a different format, contact your instructor.

Headings: Specific Format and Style

In this guide and in this course, you use a specific style and format for headings. It is not, however, the "right" or the "only" one, just one among many. It's important to use this style, however, because that's the way it is for many technical writers-they must write according to a "house" style. Most organizations expect their documents to look a certain way. Using the style and format for headings described in this book gives you some experience with one of the key requirements in technical writing-writing according to "specifications."

To see our "house style" for headings-the style and format for headings we will use-see Figure 4-1. Pay close attention to formatting details such as vertical and horizontal spacing, capitalization, use of bold, italics, or underlining, and punctuation. Notice that you can substitute bold for underlining.

Now, here are the specifications for headings in this course:

First-Level Headings

Follow these guidelines for first-level headings:

Second-Level Headings

Follow these guidelines for second-level headings:

Third-Level Headings

Follow these guidelines for third-level headings:

Designing Your Own Headings

If you want to use your own style and format of headings, contact your instructor. Together, you two may be able to work out alternate heading specifications.

If you design your own style of headings, remember that the fundamental principle of heading design has to do with decreasing noticeability of headings, the lower the heading level. In any heading style, you'll notice the top-level heading (called first-level here) is the largest, darkest, boldest, most highly visible heading on the page. The tools you can use to achieve this greater or lesser degree of visibility include bold, italics, type size, different fonts, relationship to surrounding text, graphics elements attached to headings, and so on.

When you design your own heading style, be careful about going overboard with fancy typographical elements. Also, continue to use the guidelines presented in this chapter; they apply to practically any design. And finally, use your heading design consistently throughout your document.

Figure 4-2. Headings and outlines: headings function like outline elements inserted into the text at those points where they apply.

Figure 4-3. Common problems with headings: picture these outline items in the actual text.

Figure 4-4. A few more common heading problems-nonstandard capitalization, incorrect subordination, and "stacked" heads. There's nothing "wrong" about the caps style used in the first version; it's just not our "house" style. Subordination refers to the level of headings. "Stacked" headings occur when there is no text between two consecutive headings.

Return to the table of contents for the TCM1603 Course Guide (the online textbook for Austin Community College's online technical writing course).

This information is owned and maintained by David A. McMurrey. For information on use, customization, or copies, e-mail or call (512) 476-4949.