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Make the Most of Subheads

In reports and most lengthy documents, subheads keep the material organized for readers—and even the writer. Business Writing That Counts! covers the importance of these and other tools of business writing in our programs. Once you learn to use subheads in a savvy way, your writing will make more sense to readers and likely will be more engaging, too! Use these 5 tips to make subheads work for—not against—your writing.

Use no less than two subheads. A single subhead within an article makes no sense and will confuse the reader. In short, pieces that center on a single theme, subheads still can work, but only if you clearly spot two separate themes or sections. Any less, and don't bother. Once you pass two, there is no set number. Just don't litter your writing with subheads every few sentences. Bullets likely work better for lists. Set levels, especially in blog posts. Complex business and technical writing or lengthy documents might require more than one level of subhead. As a matter of appearance, provide visual cues to subhead levels. For example, a subhead should never stand out more than a main title. If you must break up a section's text into further sections, create a new level of "sub-subhead." Then, consistently apply those levels and their styles (centered or flush left, italicized or bolded) throughout a document. Webpages and blog posts use heading levels, which provides a comparable—and searchable—subhead structure. Improve SEO by using the top three or four heading levels consistently to break up text. Make them parallel. As with bullets, all subheads should be fairly consistent and parallel in construction. This means not using long sentences for one subhead and then two short words for the next. When readers scan a document or web page, they should be able to spot subheads and read through them to find a logical flow of information. Note the bullets in this post as an example: each starts with a verb or action and a similar number of words to follow. Create active subheads. Those verbs and action words add to subhead meaning and form short sentences of their own, at least with a basic verb and subject. Writing with action verbs creates more engaging and effective content, and the same goes for subheads. Avoid outline-type descriptions such as: Sizes, Colors, etc. Instead, say: Choose the best size; Pick your favorite color. Avoid riddles and tricks. Good writers show an ability to create visuals with words (especially those action verbs) and use clever writing tricks like alliterations (repeating the initial consonant or sound, such as in "Peter's Pickles.") This can work well, especially in brand and marketing pieces, but resist the temptation to stuff subheads with the most clever word choices. Readers appreciate knowing what topics likely follow a heading, and they don't want to read below to solve any riddles. Get to the point for the sake of your readers—and for better SEO.

With our BWTC licensing program (See column on right above), you can have an in-house subhead expert. Your best writers or communication team can learn to create subhead levels for appearance and SEO as a sort of in-house style and help improve the effectiveness of subheads and other components of your company's business writing. Call us today if you have questions: 425.485.3221. Here’s to good writing!


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