Do good headings make readers lazy?

Daniel Androutsos | June 18, 2024

A chocolate cake being carefully iced.

Your headings are like the icing on your cake. Image by Leonardo Cirimbelli / Unsplash licence

At Write, we recommend using informative headings to convey your key messages to your readers. For example, out of the two headings below, we recommend using the second one.

  1. Cake icing preferences
  2. Most people prefer cakes with icing

But if your headings convey all your key points, could that make your readers lazy? Might some readers not bother to read the rest of your work? Might they only eat the icing?

It hurts not to be read

We spend a lot of time on our writing. After all that planning, content creating, and reviewing, our carefully chosen words all deserve to be read at least once, right? It’s unpleasant to think of someone just flicking through our work in a matter of seconds and then putting it aside — or even throwing it away.

But we can’t force our readers to read every word, and we can’t guarantee that every word we write will be read. We can only do our best to make our writing as purposeful and relevant to the reader as possible. What happens next is always up to them.

You’re competing for your readers’ time

Keep in mind that your readers are very busy and their time is in high demand. As writers, we compete against all the other things our readers need to read, in a sea of information, and all the other tasks they need to do. With that in mind, how can you earn your readers’ attention?

Make your writing appealing and easily digestible

We know that first impressions count, and that readers want things to be quick and easy. It’s also hard for readers to concentrate when they are stressed.

Your readers are more likely to read your content thoroughly if it’s clearly compelling and relevant. And if it’s easy to read, they are more likely to understand what you’re trying to say.

Informative headings get your reader’s attention

Informative headings help to make your main points clear and easy to find. They give your readers what they are looking for and help them to connect with your content right away. Even uninterested readers will be drawn to your key points if you put them in your headings.

Which version of this report about icing draws your attention?

Two reports about cake icing. The one on the left is dense, with short headings and long paragraphs. The one on the right has clear, key points in the headings and short paragraphs.

A comparison — readers are drawn to content with informative headings. Image by Write Limited / CC BY-NC-ND

Is it the one with the key points in headings?

It’s the same for your busy readers. When you use informative headings, your reader is more likely to:

Informative headings help in other ways too

As well as making your content appealing, informative headings have three other key benefits.

Informative headings reinforce your points

Using your headings to restate your main messages reinforces them in your reader’s mind. You also make it easier for your reader to follow your logic and argument.

Informative headings signpost the details readers most need

Informative headings help your reader locate the precise information they need for the points they find most important. So they aren’t forced to search the whole document for specific details.

Informative headings help your reader return to your content

Perhaps, on first viewing, your reader only has time to skim your content. Informative headings make it easier for the reader to return to your content to read it more thoroughly. The key messages in the headings remind the reader what the content is about, and help them locate the parts they need to focus on.

Icing your cake won’t stop people from eating it

Let’s imagine that instead of writing, we’re baking cakes. You might spend a long time making a great cake. Would icing your cake encourage people to just try the icing and ignore the rest of the cake?

If the icing is good, someone will probably take a slice. They might even tell their colleagues about it, who could be compelled to try it too. Soon everyone will be talking about your excellent cake — or perhaps the key points in your document.

So, use informative headings to give your reader a good taste of your writing. You’ll increase the chances of it being read.

Keen to improve your headings?

Learn how to make your headings informative in our business writing workshops:
Book a slot on Business Writing Essentials

Check out our other online resources

Write’s blog has lots more advice about headings:
How to plan and structure your writing with descriptive headings – Write

Write Online is our e-learning library of videos, with a free 7-day trial:
Write Online | How to write headings that guide your readers | Online Writing Classes

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