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A brief descriptive word or phrase that introduces or summarizes a document or a section within a document.

Headings and subheadings (sometimes called heads and subheads) are commonly used in business writing and technical writing to help readers follow a discussion and locate information.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "Subtitles will make visible to the busy copyeditor and time-starved reader the big parts of the story. The act of writing them will test the writer's ability to identify and label those parts. And, when well written, these subheads will reveal at a glance the global structure of the piece, indexing the parts, and creating additional points of entry."
    (Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Little, Brown, 2006)

  • Headings and Hierarchies of Information
    "Headings do more than announce the subject that will be discussed in the document. Collectively, they create a hierarchy of information, dividing the text into major sections and subdividing those sections into subsections. In this way, coherent headings communicate to readers the relative importance and generality of the information that follows, helping readers recognize major sections as primary (likely to contain more-important and more-general information) and subsections as secondary or subordinate (likely to contain less-important and more-specific information). . . .

    "Effective headings can help both readers and writer by forecasting not only the subject and purpose of the discussion that follows but also its scope and organization. When readers encounter the heading 'Three Health Benefits of Yoga: Improved Muscle Tone, Enhanced Flexibility, Better Posture,' they know (or can reasonably assume) that the discussion will consist of three parts and is likely to begin with muscle tone, followed by flexibility and posture."
    (Mike Markel, Technical Communication, 9th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010)

  • Headings in Parallel Form
    "Your headings, called heads and subheads, should be grammatically parallel and not wordy. Note how the headings below from a poorly organized proposal from the Acme Company are nonparallel:

    • What Is the Problem?
    • Describing What Acme Can Do to Solve the Problem
    • It's a Matter of Time . . .
    • Fees Acme Will Charge
    • When You Need to Pay
    • Finding Out Who's Who
    Revised, the heads are parallel and easier for a reader to understand and follow:

    • A Brief History of the Problem?
    • A Description of Acme Solutions
    • A Timetable Acme Can Follow
    • A Breakdown of Acme's Fees
    • A Payment Plan
    • A Listing of Acme's Staff
    Heads and subheads immediately attract attention and quickly inform readers about the function, scope, purpose, or contents of the document or section."
    (Philip C. Kolin, Successful Writing at Work, 8th ed. Houghton Mifflin, 2007)
Also Known As: head, header, caption, title
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