How to write descriptive headings

Lesley Hanes | December 1, 2015

Descriptive headings help your readers find and understand your information quickly. Here are two ways to write them.

Descriptive labels signpost your main topics

Label headings are usually just one or two words. Descriptive labels are a bit longer and give more information.

Let’s say I’m writing about walnut farming and my first heading is the label ‘Overview’. I could easily help readers by adding key topic words to the label. So instead of ‘Overview’, I could write ‘Overview of walnut farming’.

It’s not much effort but it makes a big difference. Readers, scanners, and skimmers can quickly tell what the following information is about. They might read it, they might not, but at least they’ve made an informed choice.

Image, walnut orchard.

A walnut orchard — so pretty. Image by U.S. Department of Agriculture / CC BY

Descriptive headings summarise your main messages

People often don’t read all of our carefully crafted words, especially online. If you want your readers to get your main messages, even when they’re not reading every word, then your headings give you a valuable opportunity.

Let’s pretend I’m writing an online article about walnut farming for people with lifestyle blocks who are thinking about trying nut farming. I want them to get an overview of what’s involved, so I’ll be keeping the ‘Overview of nut farming’ heading, but adding a bunch of descriptive subheadings. Here’s my draft subheadings with my main messages.

Walnuts are one of the highest value crops per hectare

Walnut trees take 15 years to establish

Walnuts need a warm, dry climate and irrigation

You can double crop with pasture or berries

Harvest time is labour intensive

Mature walnut trees can be harvested for their high-value timber

Even if my paragraphs didn’t get read or were skimmed, readers would get my main points from the headings. Tempted to try walnut farming anyone?

Image, delicious walnut dish.

Walnuts are delicious and very nutritious. Image by Wicked Sushi / CC BY-ND

Descriptive headings work anywhere

Descriptive headings and subheadings work anywhere — in emails, reports, online, or in brochures. Use them and your readers will thank you for showing them the way and making it easier to ‘get’ your messages.

Find out more

Descriptive headings can also help you to plan your writing. See: How to plan and structure your writing with descriptive headings.

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