Remember your poor, overworked readers–the ones who really don’t want to be reading your paper? Substantive headings are one of the kindest gifts you can give those poor souls. Why? Because substantive headings allow your readers to choose what parts of the paper to read and–even better–what parts of the paper to skip.
Again, “leading from the top” is a guiding principle for all professional writing. Headings are the “top” of your sections. They must tell your readers what the section is about. A well-written heading builds your credibility as a writer and pulls your readers into that section.
Substantive headings are also the road map to your paper. Even a 50-page paper becomes accessible if it is clearly divided into a few substantive parts. Headings tell your readers that you are presenting the material in manageable bites. And headings force you to lay out your words systematically rather than just spilling those words randomly throughout your paper. So in addition to labeling the standard structural sections of your paper (such as Facts, Issue and Conclusion), use substantive headings to explain what each section in your Discussion or Argument is about, and set off those headings with Roman numerals or a primary heading. (I’ll explain how to number headings later and I’ll also talk about what makes for a good heading.)
The bottom line? Be kind to your readers. Use substantive headings to give them an easy way into your paper–and an easy way out.
Headings help them on their way . . . .