Headings and subheadings

As readers skip, skim and scan our pages, they often only notice the first two to three words of any of the paragraphs on the page. They also pay fractionally more attention to headings, bulleted lists and links, so it's important to ensure the first two to three words in those items "front load" information as much as possible.

Headings and subheadings should:

  • Be in sentence case.
  • Be active.
  • Use keywords that are likely to be picked up by search engines.
  • Use digits for numbers (even for numbers less than 10).
  • Use punctuation sparingly.
  • Not end with a period (but a question mark is acceptable in certain cases).
  • Not end in a gerund, as these can add ambiguity and create problems with localization.
  • Not begin with numbers (1. Time, 2. Apply time).
  • Not contain a hashtag, as this can break certain social sharing plug-ins.

Headings

The best headings should:

  • Let the reader know what they will find on the page.
  • Describe succinctly and accurately what the content is about.
  • Be creative, interesting, short (no more than eight words), to the point and written in plain, active language.
  • Avoid puns, teasers and cultural references.
  • Skip leading articles (a, the, etc).

Subheadings

Well-chosen subheadings are an essential tool in signposting readers toward relevant information. They help readers quickly summarize the content on a page as they scroll and scan through the text. They also help readers to quickly identify relevant sections of the page. For this reason, the language in a subheading should mirror that of the content beneath it.

Subheadings and their content should be clear sub-topics of the page as a whole, so avoid the temptation to add subheadings for visual appeal. If you find yourself doing this, you need to revisit the purpose of the content, examine its structure, and rework it.

Generally, format subheadings as Heading 2 (H2). Try not to vary heading size through a page, as this can be annoying for people using screen readers. In some content types (technical documentation, for example), H3 subheadings are acceptable, but you should avoid going on to H4 subheadings. 

Do not skip ranks from one header to the next. For example, do not follow an H1 heading with an H3 subheading.

Specific usage

Article and blog titles, headlines, decks, and subheads should be in sentence case. 

In a heading, capitalize the first word following a colon (Headlines and subheads: A way to attract attention). 

Event session names and agenda items use title case (Capitalize Nearly Every Word). If you use title case, capitalize major words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and all words of four letters or more) and lowercase minor words (three letters or fewer, conjunctions, short prepositions, and all articles).

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