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parallelism in headings

A document may contain headings and subheadings, which are often described in terms of levels. (For example, the major headings in a document are called Level 1 headings, while the subheadings under a major heading are called Level 2 headings, and so on.)

Within the same level of headings

It is important for headings within the same level to be parallel in structure. If you choose to start Level 1 headings with a verb, then all Level 1 headings must start with a verb; if you choose instead to use a gerund phrase, then all Level 1 headings will need to be gerund phrases; and so on.

Examples of headings using verbs

  • Analyze the information
  • Plan the structure
  • Write the document
  • Edit the document
  • Evaluate the process

Examples of headings using gerunds (-ing words)

  • Analyzing the information
  • Planning the structure
  • Writing the document
  • Editing the document
  • Evaluating the process

With different levels of headings

Although the headings within one level should be parallel in structure, the structure can vary between levels. In other words, Level 2 headings do not need to have the same structure as Level 1 headings.

Parallelism has been used effectively in the set of headings and subheadings below. The Level 1 headings are all verbs, while the Level 2 headings are all questions:

  • Analyze
    • What is the purpose of the document?
    • Who is the target audience?
    • What information is available?
  • Plan
    • What type of document should I write?
    • How do I write an outline?
  • Write
    • How do I make the document easy to read?
    • How do I make the document easy to understand?
    • How do I make the document easy to use?

As this list shows, when the headings within each level are parallel, it is easier for readers to understand the organization of your document and to find the information they need.