Online Technical Writing: 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.
In this chapter, you use a specific style of headings. This style is the standard, required format if you take a course that uses this online textbook. If you want to use a different style, contact your instructor. Here are some specific guidelines on headings (see the figures at the end of this chapter for illustrations of these guidelines):
Heading style and format, standard for courses using this online textbook. If you want to use a different format, contact your instructor.
In this chapter, 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 the illustrations in this chapter. 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 chapter:
Follow these guidelines for first-level headings:
Follow these guidelines for second-level headings:
Follow these guidelines for third-level 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.
Headings and outlines: headings function like outline elements inserted into the text at those points where they apply.
Common problems with headings: picture these outline items in the actual text.
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.
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