Use lots of useful headings
The best-organized document will still be difficult for users to follow if they can't see how it's organized. An effective way to reveal your document's organization is to use lots of useful headings. Headings are also critical for effective web pages (see Writing for the web). You should use headings liberally on the web to help your user accomplish top tasks.
Types of headings
There are three types of headings—
|Type of heading||What it is||How it looks|
|Question Heading||A heading in the form of a question||Why Do We Use Headings?|
|Statement Heading||A heading that uses a noun and a verb||Headings Help Guide a Reader|
|Topic Heading||A heading that is a word or short phrase||Headings|
Question Headings are the most useful type of heading, but only if you know what questions your audience would ask. Most people come to government documents with questions. If you know those questions, use them as headings. They will help the audience find the information they are looking for quickly. Using the question-and-answer format helps your audience scan the document and find specific information.
Statement Headings are the next best choice because they are still very specific.
Topic Headings are the most formal; many times management is more comfortable with them. But sometimes they're so vague that they just aren't helpful. Topic Headings such as "General," "Application," and "Scope" are so vague they may confuse the user. For example, "Application" might mean an application to your agency from someone reading your document. But it might as easily mean what the document applies to.
|Short headings that aren’t very helpful to the reader||Informative headings capture the reader’s questions|
In the example above, the section headings in the right column are more informative than the short topic headings in the left column. Additionally, breaking the material into more sections allows us to capture the entire content of each section in its heading. A document with lots of informative headings is easy to follow because the headings break up the material into logical, understandable pieces.
Use headings to help develop your document's structure
It's often useful to start writing your document by developing the headings, structuring them to your audience's concerns. This approach can also reveal major groupings of information that you might want to identify with centered headings.
|Broad topic headings are the first step in organizing the document||Specific topics add the second level of organization|
|Qualifications of permittees and lessees||
Headings can be too long
Headings should not be so long that they overwhelm the material in the section itself. Avoid headings with one-word answers. With rare exceptions, headings should be shorter than the content that follows them.
|Heading overwhelms content||Content should be longer than headings|
Do I have to file a newspaper notice of my activities before I begin operations?
Must I publish a public notice?
You must publish a notice of your operations in a local newspaper before you begin.
- Garner, Bryan A., Legal Writing in Plain English, 2001, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 14-16.
- Kimble, Joseph, Lifting the Fog of Legalese, 2006, Carolina Academic Press, Durham, NC, p. 70 (C).
- Murawski, Thomas A., Writing Readable Regulations, 1999, Carolina Academic Press Durham, NC, pp. 10-12, 27.
- Office of the Federal Register, Document Drafting Handbook, 1998, MMR-2. www.archives.gov/federal-register/write/handbook/ddh.pdf.