This image is from one of Dr. Bailey's books: The Practical Writer (7th edition) Headings

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Bottom line

  • Use headings often.
  • Use a bold, sans serif font (like Arial).
  • Put more space above than below a heading.
  • Consider a "down style" heading.
  • Use at least two of each heading.

Use headings often

Which page would you rather read—this one, without headings?

Sample page without headings

Or this one—with headings?

Sample page with headings

Whenever you have anything longer than a page, you should probably use headings. (They work fine on less than a page, too!)

Use a bold, sans serif font

Normally use Arial, bold for your headings.

Arial is a sans serif font. Serifs are those little lines some typefaces have: 

Illustration of serif and sans serif fonts

A sans serif font—like Arial—doesn't have those little lines.

The most common choices in today's business writing are:

  • Arial (a sans serif font) for headings.
  • Times New Roman (a serifed font) for body text.

Put more space above than below a heading

A heading should be visually part of what it's labeling. That's not what happens here:

Bad layout: Headings with same space above and below

Let's put more space above than below the headings:

Good layout: Headings with more space above than below

Now the headings are part of what they're labeling. So always put more space above than below a heading.

Consider a “down style” heading

In the typewriter days, most headings had initial capitalization for all important words:

    This Is an Up Style Heading

All those capital letters had a purpose then: there weren't a lot of ways, on a typewriter, to differentiate headings from body text. But with options on a computer such as bold, italic, variable vertical spacing, different fonts, etc., initial capitalization is no longer necessary.

So today, you can exercise your preference, if you wish, and dispense with all those capital letters:

    This is a down style heading

I use down style headings in this Web site. I think they're easier to read.

Use at least two of each heading

Headings label parts. Notice that the word parts is plural. When your readers see a heading, they assume they're reading one of several parts. So be sure to have at least two of each type of heading.

Your next step

Now let's turn to bullets.

Copyright 2007 by Edward P. Bailey
(all rights reserved)