Writing for Business and Industry



Heading Design

Word choice in headings

The choice of the words in a heading are very important to help keep the reader oriented. Try to use descritptive headings that actually describe what the section contains, instead of generic ones. One way of testing a document is to just show the person a heading and ask them what they expect to find under that heading.

Font type

Headings normally use a sans serif font. This gives two advantages:

The sans serif is visually distinct from the serif body font. This allows the eye to more easily distinguish a heading from the body text.

At larger sizes, the serifs become too large and are distracting for the reader. By using sans serif fonts, there is no problem with large serifs.

Font size

Each heading should have a different size with the largest heading being the most important. Instead of trying to use all caps or underline to make a heading look more important, use a larger size with a normal mixed case font. Research has found that size is by far the most important attribute for defining the level of the heading.

Note that the online textbook said to use all caps for a level 1 heading. It's better to use a larger font size and use mixed case. There really is no need for using either all caps or underlined text with a word processor.

Formatting headings

Many sources try to give fixed rules for how to format headings, but there are not fixed rules. However, the following should be observed.


White space around headings

White space is any space in the document which does not contain text. Headings require white space to set them off from the text.


The white space can be balanced or unbalanced, with the difference being if the white space above and below the font is equal.

Balanced white space
Unbalanced white space

I recommend you use unbalanced whit space since it visually connects the heading to the text below it.

Note that I expect the white space to be part of the heading paragraph formatting and not inserted with returns (Format-Paragraph). This allows you to have solid control of the white space. Using paragraph formatting also lets you set the white space at values like 6 points (used below the heading in the unbalanced example). Inserting white space with returns often leads to too much white space and can give the document an unprofessional look.

Headings and indented text

One method of improving the ease of skimming a document is to indent the text under the headings.

Advantages of indenting the text

Disadvanages of indenting text

Notice in the indented example, that one heading level isn't indented. You should only indent the text if it helps a person find it. In other words, it must be text the person wants to find. In an installation manual, the flush left headings would be the names of specific procedures (which a person would look for) and the inline headings would be the procedures main actions, such as tools (which a person wouldn't want to specifically find).

Flush left heading


Heading with indented text


Design by Michael J. Albers Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.
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