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11.16 Headings

Headings (or heads) are used to introduce a change of subject in a report or other document and to indicate a hierarchy of topics. They are designed to guide readers and enable them to find the pages where a particular topic is discussed. The size and appearance of a heading should match its importance, and the same type of heading should be used consistently throughout a document to indicate subdivisions with the same degree of subordination. Headings that are of equal importance should have parallel grammatical structures.

You can set off the heading by various means depending, among other things, on how many levels of heading there are. These means include capitalization (full or initial letter only), underlining, centring, spacing, type size and the use of italic or boldface type. The specific means chosen to indicate the gradation of headings matter less than consistency in using them. The system adopted should be as simple as the nature of the text will allow.

Limit the number of levels of headings to three or four; otherwise the structure of your document will be cumbersome and complicated. If there are many headings or subheadings of equal importance, a numbering system, as used in this guide, can help to distinguish among them for reference purposes. Letters can be used for further subdivision of topics. This is less confusing than a system using several levels of numbers and producing subdivisions such as 1.4.2.3. Another common method of numbering combines both Roman and Arabic numerals with letters and, if needed, parentheses:

I. Technical training needs

A. First quarter objectives

1. National Capital area

a. Windows environment

Punctuation should be kept to a minimum in headings, and the wording should be as succinct as possible without being ambiguous. No periods are required, except in run-in heads.

Unless a heading is centred or full capitalization is used, only the first word and proper nouns are normally capitalized. In centred headings, capitalize the first letter of each word except the following (unless they are the initial word):

  • articles
  • short conjunctions (fewer than four letters)
  • short prepositions (fewer than four letters)

Do not footnote a heading.