As a freelance copywriter, I see many problems when I’m editing documents, one of them is the placement of headings and sub-headings.

Many documents have them scattered haphazardly throughout with little, if any, connection to the following text.

Alternatively, some documents are so content dense that I’m not surprised the message is misunderstood. Readers have to wade through long paragraphs with very few heading and sub-headings. This is one of the reasons documents often remain unread.

The answer…

Make sure you have inserted enough headings and sub-headings. When you’re writing a heading, use as few words as possible without losing the meaning. Ensure the following paragraphs relate only to the heading. When you have finished writing that bit, insert a new sub-heading or heading. Write the following content relating to that heading, and so on throughout the document. Always check the headings and sub-headings when editing documents.

Check headings and sub-headings are meaningful when editing documents.

When you write this way, you are forced to think about the structure of the content and its natural flow.

I’m not suggesting every document you write will need heaps of headings and sub-headings. What I am proposing is you consider inserting headings and sub-heading, where appropriate, for clarity and ease of reading.

Orphaned Headings

Orphaned means the heading is at the bottom of a column of text and the content at the beginning of the next column. Or the heading is at the bottom of one page and the relevant content is on the following page. You can fix the problem in three ways:

  1. Add as many lines of text as necessary to force the heading to the top of the next column.
  2. Insert a page break before the heading this forces it to the next page.
  3. If you have set up a style where the content on each page finishes in the same place on the page (which makes the page look good), you will need to write another few lines or a paragraph, which will naturally force the heading to the next page.

When you are editing or doing the final read always check to ensure there are no orphaned headings.

Many articles or documents are printed in column layout. An easy way for you to check if there will be any orphaned headings is to change the layout to columns in the draft document before you do the final proof read.

Skim Readers

Today people are skim readers and visually scan a page reading the headings and sub-headings before choosing which bit they want to read first. If there are no headings or only a few, skim readers become frustrated and move on, this is especially true when reading longer web pages.

Consider this when structuring and writing your material.

This is particularly relevant when you are writing proposals and reports. Many readers look at the table of contents choose which section they want to read first, then skip back to the contents to choose another section.

It’s not common for the majority of readers to begin at page one and read the entire document page by page until the end – Hence the importance of excellent headings and sub-headings.

Next time you are reading, become more conscious of “how” you read, not just what you’re reading.

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