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Headings & Subheadings

Headings & Subheadings

Author: Meghan Hatalla

This packet will review:
- How to signal important points with the use of headings and subheadings
- How to format headings and subheadings
- Appropriate language for headings

Different types of writings and citation styles might call for you to use headings and subheadings within your paper to help divide information. It's important to use clear and consistent wording in headings, as well as use headings to highlight significant information.

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How to Signal Important Points

Headings and subheadings visually represent how information is organized in a paper as well as succinctly tell the reader what is in each section.


  • Keep 'em short  Headings are usually 1-5 words (depending on the citation style).  They give an idea of what the section of the paper is about, but not an in-depth analysis
  • Make 'em parallel  Headlines should use a consistent style--if you're not using "The" in front of all headlines, don't use it in front of any.
  • Only use headings if you have more than 1 heading per level  You wouldn't make a bulleted list for 1 item, right?


  • Use explanatory subheadings  Subheadings can be slightly longer than headings since they are essentially expanding on the heading. They should provide a good frame for the context, but without bogging down the paper.
  • Use them like a roadmap  Readers should be able to skim subheadings to get an idea of the layout of the content.
  • Make them smaller than headings  Headings and subheadings are used to visually convey importance. Subheadings should be consistently smaller than headings/preceding subheadings.

General Tips & Suggestions

  • Don't overdo it  Not every paragraph needs a subheading.
  • Don't replace topic sentences  Headings and subheadings are used to enhance the content of your paper, not replace it.
  • Add headings and subheadings after the paper is written  Keep in mind where they'll work in your paper, but try adding them after the main content is written to help you organize the content.

Source: Meghan, Wiki

Inserting Headings & Subheadings Using MS Word

This video explains how to use headings in a paper as well as how to modify MS Word's out-of-the-box styles for each heading.

If you don't use MS Word, you can still use the same principles discussed to manually create headings and subheadings.

Appropriate Language for Headings

What's considered appropriate language for headings and subheadings depends on the particular style you're using for the paper as well as the instructions given with the assignment. Always defer to the instructions.

However, if possible, it always helps the reader to have a bit more description with headings. As previously stated, headings and especially subheadings are kind of a roadmap for readers: they know what's coming but not exactly how you're going to phrase it (that's the job of the content). Here's an example of how simple headings can be expanded upon in a simple way to give readers more of a head's up:

Basic and Expanded headings

This kind of grouping of information (or "chunking") is helpful to guide the reader. Always try to use consistent terminology to avoid perceived discrepancies as well. But above all, the best strategy to use when creating headings and subheadings is the simplest: Keep it simple!

Source: Meghan