Should you Include Headings and Subheadings in an Essay?

If you have ever tried reading a large blob of text, then you know how hard it can be. However, it becomes easier to read when broken into headings and subheadings.

Academic writings like essays have a standard of writing that must be upheld. While not every essay requires headings and subheadings, they are important for organizing your writing.

Headings describe the succeeding section, while subheading gives supporting information for the heading.

With that said, here is everything you need to know about headings

What are Headings in Essays and Academic Papers?

According to Merriam-Webster, a heading forms or serves as a head.

In academic writing, headings represent what is to come in the assignment. Adding a heading will help structure a piece of writing and guide the reader throughout the content. Short pieces of writing don't always require headings. In long-form writing, each specific section should have its heading to communicate what the reader should expect clearly. Think of it as the title of that section.

Since some points are more important than others, the heading chosen should be based on whether the idea you are talking about is the main point. Each heading chosen should tell the reader what the following idea is about. This is because the main points are the building blocks of the content. Make sure it is short, descriptive, and precise.

You can include headings and subheadings/subtopics in an essay if it is long, but ensure that the subtopics or subheadings are relevant to the content and consistent throughout the text in a manner to contribute to your thesis statement. As a good practice, ensure that the essay headings and subheadings do not exceed 12 words.

Subheadings are not recommended for short essays . However, they improve the overall structure of a long essay, help you frame and explore your topic, and enable the readers to know what to expect (they act as signposts in an essay or research paper).

Heading vs. Title

Headings and titles may look similar at a first glance, but they are not. A title represents the entire paper and explains it in clear and short phrases. It is the first thing the reader will see and determine whether they read the rest of the document. For this reason, you need to think of striking, informative, and appropriate titles. You should also write the title based on why you are writing that document. For instance, if the aim of the documents is tutorial, then the title should be task-based.

On the other hand, a heading represents what each section of the paper discusses. They help guide the reader throughout the documents, which is why you should write effective headings, and they should be as descriptive as possible.

Headings are a requirement in most forms of writing, but some lecturers may be divided about using them in academic essays, which is why you should confirm with them first. 

Headings Vs. Subheadings

Headings are key parts of writing as they will capture the reader's attention and lure them into the document's purpose. They guide the reader to the main points of the paper. You have to set the headings apart from the body of the text by coming up with an enticing phrase.

Subheadings, on the other hand, do more than grab the reader's attention; they show the different subsections of the text. They keep the reader engaged by quickly guiding them to the information they want.

Headings and subheadings appear at the beginning of a section and organize the flow of the documents. In addition, they are both used to break down large blocks of text to make them more scannable. They also have a hierarchy that is Heading (H2) first, followed by subheadings (H3) and (H4) in that order. Subheadings should always come after the heading, as demonstrated.

The Best Length for Headings in Academic Writing

A heading can be as long as you want it to give the reader a snippet of the idea. A good rule of thumb should be no more than 70 characters.

For higher level headings, like H1, H2, and H3s, they could be as low as one word, for instance, the introduction, methodology, and such. For such sections, the one word is clear enough for the reader to know what it represents. Low levels like H5 and below can be much longer and direct the reader to exactly what they are looking for.

Levels of Heading in Academic Writing

Headings are an important part of academic writing as they act as a preview of the document. They guide the reader on what you are talking about, which is why you should assign different heading levels.

There are five levels of headings in APA style. Level 1, Level 2, level 3, level 4, levels 5. Level 1 is the main heading, followed by level 2, its subheading, and level 3 is the subsection of level 2 in that order.

Level 1 headings are your main headings and are usually typed in the center of the paper in title case and bolded. Their text beneath will always start in the next line, indented inward, just as you begin a new paragraph. These help the reader find their way through the document, read what they want and skip what they are not interested in.

The length and complexity of the paper will determine how many levels you will use. If it's just a short piece of writing, you can use Level 1. If you need two headings, use level 1 and level 2. If it's a 2000-word article, research paper, term paper, or essay, you will need between 3 and 5 headings.

Keep in mind that not every paragraph needs a heading. While headings can keep your work neat, too many can defeat the purpose. Also, make sure that each of the headings and subheadings has a connection to the main title.

All these levels are differentiated by different styles and formats depending on the publication manual provided, which can be either APA or MLA format.

Reasons to Use Headings in Academic Writing

Headings are helpful in academic writing for a myriad of reasons, including:

Making Your Content More Readable

Much information goes into academic writing to pass information to the reader. Putting all your information in a large block of text will be overwhelming and can scare away the readers. The white gaps at each heading section will offer a resting place hence a visual break. Therefore, separating the large chunks of text into manageable portions will keep your readers engaged.

Outlining Your Content

Headings serve as the structure of your writing. By dividing the large bulk of text with headings, you guide the reader through each section and what it is about. Otherwise, they won't know what it is about.

Capturing the Reader's Attention

The main aim of any heading is to hook the reader and create curiosity enough for them to continue reading through the rest of the article. Having a catchy and informative heading will entice them to read even further.

Remember that readers rarely read documents from start to finish. Major headings should stand out but so should headings and subheadings if you want the readers to continue reading your paper.

Finding Important Information

Readers will likely scan the essay to get a general idea of what it is about and decide if they want to read it. Well-structured headings will help them achieve that.

Improving Overall Quality

Headings and subheadings improve the quality of the essay. A high-quality essay is suitable for readers and also for search engine optimization (SEO) if you intend to publish it online. Ensure to use keywords in the headings and structure them to improve visibility.

Tips to Include Better Headings and Subheadings

Writing informative and precise headings and subheadings is vital if you want your writing to get the message home. You need to borrow the following tips to show that they should spend time reading your writing.

Use the Right Length

The length of your article or essay will determine how long your headings and subheadings should be. Put yourself in the reader's shoes and think of the heading you would like to read. Lengthy headings aren't attractive. Most readers want something short and precise, which is what you should do. It should only take them a few seconds to read, so be sure the length should be not more than 30 words.

Make It Relevant to the Content and Topic

Headings and subheadings are essential to catch the reader's attention but are not important enough to stand independently. They represent the critical concepts and all the supporting ideas. Therefore, you need to consider the topic's relevance when determining what phrases to use in your subheading. Carefully think about each key piece of information you'd like to include in each of your sections. Then ensure that each subheading is connected to the main title or the heading.

Be Clear and Concise

Headings and subheadings tell the reader what the content is about. They are usually about five words long. Therefore, you should go directly to the point using clear language that is easy to understand. Most readers skim through the text before reading which is why you should use simple and straightforward words. Always remember that readers have questions and are looking for answers and shouldn't have to ponder what you are talking about. If your heading is clear and to the point, they won't leave to look for answers elsewhere.

Place It in the Right Place

Consider where your target audience is likely to look and where they are likely to appear. While doing this, also consider the kind of phrases they are likely to type for the specific information they want. This gives you a general idea of where to place headings and subheadings. Remember that the APA and MLA format requires that all headings be placed hierarchically. So as you choose your phrases, ensure that they align with the content's topic and flow.

Consider the Formatting Style

Heading styles format your headings to make them stand out from the rest of the text. They also give your essay structure and make it more accessible to the target audience. In addition to this, headings also help in:

  • Generating a table of contents
  • Use style sets to reformat the document
  • Rearranging the documents
  • Creating a structured pdf file using the heading tag

Remember that each heading is formatted with a different heading style located in the style section. Since you've already used H1 for the major heading, the first subheading will be H2, and the second subheading will be H3.

Related Reading: How to indent an essay well.

Number the Heading or Subheading if Needed

Putting numbers on your heading makes it easy to scan. Top-level headings like H1 are numbered 1,2,3,4 while second-level headings, like H2, are numbered 1.1, 1.2, 1.3

Remember that even though you are numbering the headings, you need to introduce your topic in the first paragraph after the headings. Headings don't speak for themselves, so writing a few sentences restating the main idea will tell the reader what will come.

Be Consistent Throughout the Paper

If you intend to use headings in your paper, ensure each section has a heading and subheading. Also, ensure they are consistent in font, size, color, indentation, etc. The style function in Microsoft Word will help create consistency in your headings. You must select the text you want to convert into a heading, then select the appropriate heading from the Style box.

Avoid Repetition

Avoid repeating any phrases in your headings. Using the same heading more than once can affect the reader's comprehension of your message, negatively impacting their reaction to your essay. Sometimes you may repeat the headings without even noticing. For this reason, you should use the Find Function in MS Word or Google Docs.

Another way you can check for repetition is by reading your essay out loud, and this will help you spot any headings or subheadings that have been repeated.

Capitalize, Format, and Punctuate Well

Effective headings are well capitalized, formatted, and punctuated. The APA style uses two styles for this, title case and sentence case. In the title case, major words are capitalized, while minor ones are lowercase. Sentence cases, on the other hand, only capitalize the proper nouns while the rest remain in lowercase.

Use Automatic Heading in Word Processor

Microsoft Word has a built-in feature that anticipates how you want to format your document. As you begin typing, your text starts in the typical style, but when you press enter and move to a new line, the style changes to H1 with different fonts, colors, etc.

If you are typing a paragraph with a small number of words and press enter and then fail to provide proper punctuation, the feature will assume you are moving to a new paragraph, and it will then automatically enter a new heading with a heading style.

Use Descriptive Headings

Use concrete and descriptive language to make your headings more effective so the reader can know what to expect in each section. Don't use function headings when writing your technical reports; these are not so predictable, and readers benefit from the headings being much more descriptive.

Function headings are only used when writing pieces that need consistent structures, for instance, lab reports. An example is:

  • Introduction
  • Methodology
  • Conclusions

Include Technical Terms Needed

Technical terms should not be used in headings because they may be hard to understand except those who know the languages. Technical terms are primarily used in academic documents that professionals read but if not specified, avoid them.

Related Read: How to write an article title in academic papers.

Final Words

Headings and subheadings are vital features in academic writing that represent the main points of a topic. The difference in formatting helps reader's the main points from the rest of the texts. Ensure you follow all the tips about including headings and subheadings in your text. Talk to your lecturer, professor, teacher, or instructor if you are unsure whether to add them to your essay.

What are Headings in an Essay?

Headings are markers that guide the reader through an essay by showing them what the next section is about. Like a title, they are only a few words long and are essential in structuring your content so as not to overwhelm the reader.

Should I Put Headings in an Essay?

Yes. It will help if you put headings in your essays to make them more readable. Essays consist of three parts: introduction, body, and conclusion. Most of them are written in a continuous, paragraphed text without the need for section headings, especially if it's a short essay. On the other hand, long-form essays need headings and subheadings to make them easy to write and read. Since most lecturers are divided about using them in academic essays, you should confirm with your tutor before you start writing.

How Do I Include Subheadings in an Essay?

Subheadings are mini headlines that come after the headings, and they help explain more about the headings and aid readers in skimming through the content. If you have used the first heading, H1, and need to provide more information about it, add a subheading, H2.

If you have trouble deciding how to use subheadings correctly, think of them as an outline. Therefore, break down your topic into simple ideas, then use them to organize your essay.

How Do You Make a Heading in an Essay or Academic Paper?

You must think carefully about the aim of writing a paper and the main idea. Each heading should be clear and to the point. You don't want to mince words and possibly confuse the reader. Also, remember that headings are meant to enhance, not replace, the main topic. Ensure you set it apart from the body of the text by using H1 formatting in either Microsoft Word or Google Docs.

Borrow some of the following best practices to write an effective heading:

  • Create a controversy
  • Ensure it short
  • Pose a question
  • Suggest a number
  • Provide an explanation

How Do You Use Headings and Subheadings?

Headings (section headings) are the title of your essay. They appear at the beginning of the page and guide the reader through your content. It is the first one your readers see before reading your essay or text. It doesn't matter whether the reader reads every word in your essay; they can still get the basic idea of your paper. Using different heading levels will help the reader navigate through the document. The headings and subheadings should be captivating enough to make an excellent first impression.

When writing a subheading, keep in mind that the H2s are the headers of each header for the main section of the essay. H3s are the subsections of the main points in H2s. H4s, on the other hand, are detailed subheadings breaking down the text into more specific options. The subheadings amplify the title or heading of the essay, and they also complement the headings. They make your writing flow and should be relevant to the topic. With such an organization, you have achieved a first-class essay level. A good subheading captures the essence of the title and consistently informs the reader that they are still on an idea related to the topic. It is also short, descriptive, clear, and concise.

Should Essays Have Section Headings?

Yes. Just like books are divided into chapters, essays and articles should be divided into sections. Essays should have section headings because they help make your work more organized and easy to read. And within those sections, the text can be divided into subsections.

Are There Specific Words to Use in Headings and Subheadings in Essays?

You will probably be tempted to use more words to make your heading more concise, but this isn't a good idea. Make sure you carefully choose words that clearly describe your chosen topic. If possible, use numbers in your headings because they are like brain candy, making your work more interesting. Also, ensure you use odd numbers because they are more attractive to readers than even numbers, according to the Content Marketing institute . Avoid abbreviations, idioms, or colloquial expressions when writing headings and subheadings.

How Many Headings to Use in an Essay or Academic Assignment?

To be safe, only use a maximum of three headings. However, this will depend on the length of your academic assignments. Remember that headings are short phrases that introduce the topic you are writing about and make it easy for the readers to read through. So if you are writing a short essay of fewer than 1000 words, there is no need for headings. But for articles above 1000 words then, you must use them. Headings will help identify the different sections in an essay.

What Are Heading Levels?

Headings organize your essay in a hierarchical order. Since some points are more critical, assigning different levels will help distinguish them.

should i use headings in an essay

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Crafting the Perfect Headline: 50+ Examples of Proper Heading for Essay

Master the art of crafting a proper heading for essay with our tips and examples to engage readers and enhance your writing.

Writing an essay can be a daunting task, but nailing the perfect headline, or proper heading for an essay , can set the tone for success. Think of your essay’s heading as a first impression. It’s what grabs the reader's attention and gives them a hint of what to expect. In this article, we’ll dive deep into how to craft an effective heading, why it’s crucial, and some tips and tricks to make your heading stand out. Let's embark on this journey to mastering the art of the proper heading for essay writing!

Why is a Proper Heading for an Essay Important?

Why is a Proper Heading for an Essay Important?

A proper heading for an essay isn't just a title; it's a snapshot of your entire paper. It serves several critical functions:

  • Engages the Reader: A well-crafted heading draws readers in, making them want to read more.
  • Provides Clarity: It gives a clear idea of the essay's topic and scope.
  • Sets the Tone: The heading sets the mood for the essay, whether it's serious, humorous, analytical, or persuasive.

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, essays with clear and engaging headings were 60% more likely to be read from start to finish than those with vague or boring titles. This stat underscores the importance of investing time in creating a proper heading for an essay.

Key Components of a Proper Heading for Essay

Crafting a proper heading for an essay involves a few key components:

  • Clarity: Ensure your heading is straightforward and easy to understand.
  • Relevance: The heading should accurately reflect the content of your essay.
  • Brevity: Keep it concise. A long, convoluted heading can be off-putting.
  • Keywords: Incorporate relevant keywords to help with search engine optimization (SEO) if your essay is going online.

Types of Essay Headings

Different types of essays require different approaches to headings. Let’s explore some common types:

Analytical Essay

For an analytical essay, your heading should indicate the specific aspect or theme you’re analyzing.

  • Example: "The Role of Symbolism in 'The Great Gatsby'"

Argumentative Essay

An argumentative essay heading should present the central argument or question.

  • Example: "Is Capital Punishment Justifiable in Modern Society?"

Descriptive Essay

For a descriptive essay, your heading should hint at what you’re describing.

  • Example: "A Serene Evening by the Beach"

Narrative Essay

A narrative essay heading should introduce the story or experience you're sharing.

  • Example: "My Unforgettable Trip to the Amazon Rainforest"

Expository Essay

An expository essay heading should clearly state what you’re explaining or informing.

  • Example: "Understanding the Basics of Blockchain Technology"

Compare and Contrast Essay

For this type, your heading should mention the subjects being compared.

  • Example: "Online Learning vs. Traditional Classroom Education"

Persuasive Essay

A persuasive essay heading should present the stance you’re taking.

  • Example: "Why Organic Farming is the Future of Agriculture"

Tips for Crafting a Proper Heading for Essay

Creating the perfect heading isn’t always easy, but here are some tips to help:

  • Start with a Working Title: Don’t stress about the final title initially. Start with a working title and refine it as you go.
  • Use Action Words: Action words can make your heading more dynamic and engaging.
  • Be Specific: Vague headings can be confusing. Be as specific as possible about what your essay covers.
  • Avoid Jargon: Unless your audience is familiar with specific jargon, keep your language simple and accessible.
  • Get Feedback: Don’t hesitate to ask peers or mentors for feedback on your heading.

50 Examples of Proper Headings for Different Types of Essays

  • "Analyzing the Use of Irony in 'The Catcher in the Rye'"
  • "The Symbolism of the Green Light in 'The Great Gatsby'"
  • "Examining the Theme of Isolation in 'Frankenstein'"
  • "The Role of Social Class in 'Pride and Prejudice'"
  • "The Impact of Colonialism in 'Heart of Darkness'"
  • "Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished?"
  • "The Benefits of Universal Healthcare"
  • "The Case for Renewable Energy"
  • "Why School Uniforms Should Be Mandatory"
  • "The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence"
  • "A Walk Through Central Park in Autumn"
  • "The Bustling Streets of Tokyo at Night"
  • "The Serene Beauty of the Swiss Alps"
  • "A Day in the Life of a Farmer"
  • "The Vibrant Culture of Rio de Janeiro"
  • "My Journey to Overcoming Fear of Public Speaking"
  • "A Memorable Summer Vacation in Greece"
  • "The Day I Met My Best Friend"
  • "An Unexpected Adventure in the Wilderness"
  • "The Night I Learned the True Meaning of Family"
  • "The History and Evolution of the Internet"
  • "How Solar Panels Work"
  • "The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet"
  • "The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health"
  • "Understanding the Basics of Quantum Computing"
  • "Traditional vs. Online Education: Which is Better?"
  • "The Differences Between Urban and Rural Living"
  • "Comparing the French and American Revolutions"
  • "Electric Cars vs. Gasoline Cars: Pros and Cons"
  • "Public Transportation vs. Private Cars"
  • "Why Everyone Should Practice Meditation Daily"
  • "The Importance of Voting in Local Elections"
  • "Why Recycling Should Be Mandatory"
  • "The Benefits of Learning a Second Language"
  • "Why We Should Reduce Our Carbon Footprint"

Cause and Effect Essay

  • "The Effects of Climate Change on Polar Bears"
  • "How Technology Has Changed the Workplace"
  • "The Causes and Consequences of World War II"
  • "The Impact of Fast Food on Health"
  • "The Effects of Social Media on Communication Skills"

Definition Essay

  • "What Does It Mean to Be Happy?"
  • "The True Definition of Success"
  • "What Is Feminism?"
  • "Defining the Concept of Freedom"
  • "The Meaning of Courage"

Process Essay

  • "How to Bake a Perfect Chocolate Cake"
  • "The Process of Applying for College"
  • "Steps to Start Your Own Business"
  • "How to Create a Budget"
  • "The Process of Writing a Research Paper"

FAQs About Proper Heading for Essay

What is a proper heading for essay.

A proper heading for essay is a concise, engaging title that accurately reflects the content and tone of the essay. It serves to grab the reader’s attention and provide a snapshot of what the essay is about.

How long should a proper heading for essay be?

Ideally, a proper heading for essay should be between 5 to 10 words. It should be long enough to convey the main idea but short enough to be easily readable and memorable.

Can I use a question as a heading for my essay?

Yes, using a question can be an effective way to engage readers and pique their interest. Just ensure the question is relevant to your essay’s content.

Should I include keywords in my essay heading?

Absolutely! Including keywords can improve the SEO of your essay if it’s published online, making it easier for readers to find.

Can the heading for my essay be creative or humorous?

Yes, as long as it fits the tone and content of your essay. A creative or humorous heading can make your essay stand out and engage readers.

Examples of Effective Headings

To further illustrate the point, here are some examples of effective headings for various types of essays:

  • "Deconstructing the Hero’s Journey in 'Star Wars'"
  • "The Case Against Single-Use Plastics: An Urgent Call for Change"
  • "The Enchanting Beauty of Kyoto’s Cherry Blossoms"
  • "From Lost to Found: My Journey Through Italy"
  • "The Rise of Renewable Energy: A Path to a Greener Future"
  • "Public Schools vs. Private Schools: Which is Better for Students?"
  • "Why We Should Embrace Remote Work as the New Normal"

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should i use headings in an essay

Conclusion: The Art of the Proper Heading for Essay

In conclusion, a proper heading for essay is more than just a title. It’s a powerful tool that can set the stage for your writing, engage your audience, and convey the essence of your essay. By following the tips and guidelines provided in this article, you can master the art of crafting effective and compelling headings for any type of essay.

Remember, the heading is the first thing your readers see, so make it count. With a bit of creativity and careful thought, you can create headings that not only attract readers but also give them a clear idea of what to expect from your essay. Happy writing!

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Headings are standard for some written forms (e.g. report writing, case studies). However, lecturers can be divided about whether they allow/prefer you to use headings in your academic essays. Some lecturers prefer headings while others don’t want you to use headings. You will need to check your lecturer’s preference. If you do use headings, then use them wisely and correctly.

About using headings

Most students who have just completed secondary studies come to university with the firm belief that you should not use headings in essay writing. The use of headings in formal writing was once restricted to business style writing, such as report writing. However, in more recent times, headings are often used in formal academic writing such as books and journals. Also, texts on the Internet are easier to read on screen if they have headings.

Headings are signposts that focus the reader on the most important content in a piece of writing, and are usually connected to the set question. Provided that they are well structured, a few headings make longer pieces of writing easier to write and easier to read (for the marker). Look at headings systems in your unit reading material, and you will get a ‘feeling’ for their structure and suitability.

It’s easy to see why you need a few rules to help you develop a good system of headings. Compare the following sets of headings then answer the questions that follow:

Read this description of a well-structured set of headings:

  • The heading system is clear and logical
  • The sub-headings are all at the same level and in the same font style
  • The wording of the headings and sub-headings is alike
  • If you used this heading system, the reader would not be confused

This description applies to:

Correct! When you see headings set out like this, it becomes obvious that you need to create a plan for your headings before you start. Heading set 1 follows the rules and is logical, whereas Heading set 2 breaks the rules and would send the reader on a ‘chase’ to work out what the writer means. So, take a couple of minutes to work out a consistent plan for using headings and apply it to all of your essays.

In general, you are expected to use headings correctly so that your writing is clear, and it is obvious that you have answered the set question. There are rules to help you to do this.

Click on the links to see more details and examples.

Graded heading system


Work out a system of headings that you can use with all of your essays. Headings should be graded at levels to show a clear order of importance (e.g. level 1 – most important; level 2 – next important and so on). You will mainly use one to three levels of headings in your essay, depending on the length of your assignment. For example, most 2000 word essays may only require 3-5 level 1 headings (i.e. a level 1 heading every 2-3 pages). Remember that the aim of using headings is to keep your reader on track. Too many headings and too many levels creates confusion.

When you design a heading system, show the relative importance of headings with the type size, position (e.g. centred or left justified), using boldface, underlining or capital letters. You can follow a recommended pattern or make up your own system—so long as it is clear and consistent. Example: Level 1: CAPITALS , bold, 14pt, centred, space below Level 2: Lowercase , bold, 12pt, left justified, space below Level 3: Lowercase , italics, 12pt, left justified, no space below

Information in logical sections


The key to working out your essay sections is to work from your question analysis. Consider the following question:

Many lecturers now approve of the use of headings in academic essays. Consider whether the benefits outweigh the problems for the writers and markers. Identify and discuss the key rules for using headings appropriately in academic essays. (2000 words)

Example of a heading plan for this question:


Level 2 headings (example from one section) The heading RULES TO GUIDE HEADING USAGE could have the following level 2 headings:

Heading hierarchies (3 paragraphs)

Effective wording of headings (2 paragraphs)

Effective wording of headings


Use three basic principles to word your headings:

  • Keep headings brief (avoid two and three liners)
  • Make them specific to the written work that follows
  • Follow a PARALLEL structure

For example:

  • If you use a question as a heading, then follow that pattern for that heading level and for that section (e.g. if your level 1 heading is What are the rules for heading levels?, then the next level 1 heading would need to be a question also: How do you word headings effectively?).
  • If you use a phrase starting with an ‘ing’ word, then follow that pattern for that heading level and for that section (e.g. Designing heading levels; Wording headings effectively).
  • If you use a noun phrase, then continue to use noun phrases for that level and for that section (e.g. Design of heading levels; Effective wording of headings).
  • You can change your heading style between levels, but you must be consistent at level 1 then in each section (i.e. all level 1 headings should follow the same pattern; each level 2 heading in a section should follow the same pattern.)

Correct punctuation for headings


Headings can be single words or short phrases and DO NOT require a full stop unless you have used a question as a heading—a question mark is then required. The use of capital letters may follow either of the following approaches provided that you are consistent:

  • Minimal capitalisation—only the first word of a title and any proper nouns and names are capitalised (e.g. Punctuation rules for Australian texts)
  • Maximal capitalisation—all words are capitalised EXCEPT for articles (e.g. a, an, the), prepositions and conjunctions (e.g. Punctuation Rules for Australian Texts)


When you place a heading in the text, it is a signpost for a section of writing. You need to begin the following paragraph with a sentence that introduces the reader to the heading topic and then announce what will be coming in that section in the essay—just as you do in the essay introduction. A heading is not part of the text of your paragraph, so you should not refer to it with a pronoun reference (e.g. this, these, that).

This means that the wording of the heading matches the information of the following section. Do not make the heading part of the first sentence.

What NOT to do

There is much to learn from what is NOT wanted. Following are some of the common mistakes made in the use of headings in formal written work:

Click on the links to see more details.

  • DO NOT use headings in smaller documents (i.e. less than a 1000 words)
  • DO NOT use too many headings
  • DO NOT change the style of heading levels midway through your writing (work out your system and stick to it)
  • DO NOT number headings in an essay unless you are asked to
  • DO NOT put headings on individual paragraphs (normally a heading applies to a number of paragraphs in a section)
  • DO NOT leave a heading at the bottom of a page by itself (‘widowed’ heading)
  • DO NOT ‘stack’ headings (e.g. a level 1 heading followed by a level 2 heading without any text in between)
  • AVOID using ‘isolated/lone’ headings (e.g. using only one sub-heading with no other sub-headings of that type following)
  • AVOID writing headings more than one line long
  • AVOID using definite articles (e.g. a, an, the) to begin headings (e.g. ‘ An example problem’ should be ‘Example problem’)

Headings for essay planning

Designing a good headings system is also very helpful for setting up a plan for writing as you can quickly see whether you have included and balanced all of the parts of a question. Make sure your headings match the information you signal in the outline statement of your introduction paragraph.


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How do I style headings and subheadings in a research paper?

Headings and subheadings can help organize and structure your writing. In general, longer and more complex works warrant more of them than shorter ones. Avoid overusing headings in short projects; they should never be used to compensate for poor structure or to explain an underdeveloped idea.

When headings are called for in your writing project, observe the basic guidelines below.

The paper or chapter title is the first level of heading, and it must be the most prominent.

Headings should be styled in descending order of prominence. After the first level, the other headings are subheadings—that is, they are subordinate. Font styling and size are used to signal prominence. In general, a boldface, larger font indicates prominence; a smaller font, italics, and lack of bold can be used to signal subordination. For readability, don’t go overboard: avoid using all capital letters for headings (in some cases, small capitals may be acceptable):

Heading Level 1
Heading Level 2
Heading Level 3

Note that word-processing software often has built-in heading styles.


Consistency in the styling of headings and subheadings is key to signaling to readers the structure of a research project. That is, each level 1 heading should appear in the same style and size, as should each level 2 heading, and so on. Generally avoid numbers and letters to designate heads unless you are working in a discipline where doing so is conventional. Note that a heading labeled “1” requires a subsequent heading labeled “2,” and a heading labeled “a” requires a subsequent heading labeled “b.” 

In a project that is not professionally designed and published, headings should be flush with the left margin, to avoid confusion with block quotations. (The exception is the paper or chapter title, which is centered in MLA style.)

For readability, it is helpful to include a line space above and below a heading, as shown in this post.

No internal heading level should have only one instance. For example, if you have one level 1 heading, you need to have a second level 1 heading. (The exceptions are the paper or chapter title and the headings for notes and the list of works cited.) You should also generally have text under each heading.


Capitalize headings like the titles of works, as explained in section 1.5 of the MLA Handbook .

The shorter, the better.

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What are headings and why are they important?

Definition of heading.

A heading is a short phrase describing what the succeeding section is all about. You can think of it as the title of that particular section.

Short documents usually do not require the use of headings. For theses and other complex readings, however, headings are important because they help readers identify the main points of each section in the paper.

Why different heading levels are needed

All right, now we know a heading is there to tell readers what a section is about. Some points are more important than others, so assigning different heading levels is necessary to indicate their significance. The level of a heading should be based on whether the idea is a main point, or a subpoint.

Main points all relate to the central argument of your topic. They are like building blocks that move toward your conclusion. Therefore, they need to be clearly visible at first glance. Subpoints, on the other hand, are minor details such as statistics, or examples that support the main points. They are not significant enough to stand as main topics, but they are important enough that they should still catch the readers’ attention.

What are headings and why are they important

Headings and subheadings represent the key concepts and supporting ideas in the paper. They visually convey levels of importance. Differences in text format guide readers to distinguish the main points from the rest. Headings are generally bigger, if not more conspicuous, than subheadings. Subheadings should be less noticeable than preceding subheadings.

Click here to download the APA heading level guidelines

APA has specific formatting guidelines for each heading level that need to be followed consistently. Please see the following example.

Aside from making your paper easier to scan, having well-structured heading levels makes it easier for you, the author, to organise your ideas while writing. While headings are considered building blocks, subheadings are to be seen as roadmaps, as they keep the author and the readers on track, and having subheadings helps you determine whether you are veering away from your main topic or not.

Things to remember when writing headings and subheadings

Keep headings concise. Headings are typically one to five words long, like a title. Subheadings, on the other hand, can be a little longer, since they expound on the heading. Think of subheadings as supporting details of the main idea (the heading) in bullet points—short and simplified.

Use headings to enhance, not replace. Headings (and subheadings) should supplement the substance of your paper, not take the place of your topic sentences. They should frame your topic, not overwhelm the whole segment.

Do not overdo it. Not all paragraphs need a subheading. And only use headings if you have more than one point per heading level.

Updated: 27 May 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: why are headings important in a paper.

A: A heading is a short phrase that indicates what the next section of your essay, report or thesis is all about. Headings are used to organise the presentation of your argument and lead the reader through the paper. The reader should be able to preview what your paper covers—your argument—by reading just the headings. Knowing what to expect and how it all links together allows the reader to absorb the material more quickly and easily. Headings also help the writer of an essay to organise their thoughts and material, lessening writing time and improving the clarity and logic of the argument.

Q: How many headings should I use in an essay?

A: How long is a piece of string? There is no precise answer here—it will depend on the nature of your essay. A few tips, though. You don’t want too many—not every paragraph needs a heading. Too many headings will overwhelm the reader and dilute their organising effect. Too few, on the other hand, may see the reader get halfway through a section and question what they are reading and why—they passed the last signpost (heading) too long ago, and now they’re lost. You may like to study examples of top-notch essays or journal articles to build your understanding of effective use of headings—that will help you judge what is most appropriate in your own work.

Q: What are heading levels?

A: Headings and subheadings represent the key concepts and supporting ideas in a paper. Depending on the length of a paper, one level of heading may suffice (or none, for very short pieces); for long works such as theses, multiple levels of subheadings will help organise the material and guide the reader (the APA Manual, for example, provides for up to five levels). As heading levels visually convey levels of importance, differences in text format are used to distinguish the main points from the rest. Headings are generally bigger, and may be centred and/or bold; subheadings should be increasingly less noticeable than preceding subheadings. As a further tip, the length of different levels of headings may also differ—main headings are typically only one to five words long, but subheadings may be a little longer since they expound on the heading.

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APA 7th Edition Style Guide: Headings in APA

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What are headings?

Headings, sections, subsections, or levels of subordination are a style of dividing your research paper into major parts, then minor subsections. Most college papers do not need headings, especially if you are only producing two to five pages. However, if your professor requests you use headings or your are writing an especially long or detailed paper, then use headings to help readers navigate your text. Follow the APA style rules for creating the correct level of heading. Always start with a level one heading and drill down to the last subsection possible (five) in order as seen below. Instructions and examples for headings are available on p. 47- 49 of the new APA 7th Edition manual.

Levels of Headings

Additional headings resources.

  • APA Style: Headings This page of the APA Style Blog provides more details about styling paper section headings in APA style.
  • Heading Levels Template: Student Paper APA Style 7th Edition This example student paper clearly illustrates how to style section headings including the paper title and the Introduction section (which should not be labeled Introduction as APA assumes all papers begin with an introduction section).

Proper Title Case vs. lowercase paragraph heading

Proper title case is using both uppercase and lowercase letters in a title. It calls for the major words to be capitalized while any small conjunctions are made smaller, i.e., 

The Title of this Paper is Lengthy

Lowercase paragraph heading calls for the first word to be capitalized along with any proper nouns contained within the heading, i.e., 

        The title of this heading is much shorter and all lowercase except for the first word.

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should i use headings in an essay

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Basic essay structure

Postgrad students taking notes and planning essay

Improve your writing

Organise your essays to demonstrate your knowledge, show your research and support your arguments

Essays are usually written in continuous, flowing, paragraphed text and don’t use section headings. This may seem unstructured at first, but good essays are carefully structured.

How your assignment content is structured is your choice. Use the basic pattern below to get started.

Essay structure

An essay consists of three basic parts:, introduction.

The essay itself usually has no section headings. Only the title page, author declaration and reference list are written as headings, along with, for example, appendices. Check any task instructions, and your course or unit handbook, for further details.

Content in assignment introductions can vary widely. In some disciplines you may need to provide a full background and context, whereas other essays may need only a little context, and others may need none.

An introduction to an essay usually has three primary purposes:

  • To set the scene
  • To tell readers what is important, and why
  • To tell the reader what the essay is going to do (signposting)

A standard introduction includes the following five elements:

  • A statement that sets out the topic and engages the reader.
  • The background and context of the topic.
  • Any important definitions, integrated into your text as appropriate.
  • An outline of the key points, topic, issues, evidence, ideas, arguments, models, theories, or other information, as appropriate. This may include distinctions or contrasts between different ideas or evidence.
  • A final sentence or two which tells the reader your focal points and aims.

You should aim to restrict your introduction to information needed for the topic and only include background and contextual information which helps the reader understand it, or sets the scene for your chosen focal points.

In most essays you will have a considerable range of options for your focus. You will be expected to demonstrate your ability to select the most relevant content to address your focal points.

There are some exceptions. For example, if an assignment brief specifically directs the essay focus or requires you to write broadly about a topic. These are relatively rare or are discipline-specific so you should check your task instructions and discipline and subject area conventions.

Below are examples of an opening statement, a summary of the selected content, and a statement at the end of the introduction which tells the reader what the essay will focus on and how it will be addressed. We've use a fictional essay.

The title of our essay is: 'Cats are better than dogs. Discuss.'

To submit this essay you also would need to add citations as appropriate.

Example of opening statements:

People have shared their lives with cats and dogs for millenia. Which is better depends partly on each animal’s characteristics and partly on the owner’s preferences.

Here is a summary of five specific topics selected for the essay, which would be covered in a little more detail in the introduction:

  • In ancient Egypt, cats were treated as sacred and were pampered companions.
  • Dogs have for centuries been used for hunting and to guard property. There are many types of working dog, and both dogs and cats are now kept purely as pets.
  • They are very different animals, with different care needs, traits and abilities.
  • It is a common perception that people are either “cat-lovers” or “dog-lovers”.
  • It is a common perception that people tend to have preferences for one, and negative beliefs about and attitudes towards, the other.

Example of closing statements at the end of the introduction:

This essay will examine both cats’ and dogs’ behaviour and abilities, the benefits of keeping them as pets, and whether people’s perceptions of their nature matches current knowledge and understanding.

Main body: paragraphs

The body of the essay should be organised into paragraphs. Each paragraph should deal with a different aspect of the issue, but they should also link in some way to those that precede and follow it. This is not an easy thing to get right, even for experienced writers, partly because there are many ways to successfully structure and use paragraphs. There is no perfect paragraph template.

The theme or topic statement

The first sentence, or sometimes two, tells the reader what the paragraph is going to cover. It may either:

  • Begin a new point or topic, or
  • Follow on from the previous paragraph, but with a different focus or go into more-specific detail. If this is the case, it should clearly link to the previous paragraph.

The last sentence

It should be clear if the point has come to an end, or if it continues in the next paragraph.

Here is a brief example of flow between two summarised paragraphs which cover the historical perspective:

It is known from hieroglyphs that the Ancient Egyptians believed that cats were sacred. They were also held in high regard, as suggested by their being found mummified and entombed with their owners (Smith, 1969). In addition, cats are portrayed aiding hunters. Therefore, they were both treated as sacred, and were used as intelligent working companions. However, today they are almost entirely owned as pets.

In contrast, dogs have not been regarded as sacred, but they have for centuries been widely used for hunting in Europe. This developed over time and eventually they became domesticated and accepted as pets. Today, they are seen as loyal, loving and protective members of the family, and are widely used as working dogs.

There is never any new information in a conclusion.

The conclusion usually does three things:

  • Reminds your readers of what the essay was meant to do.
  • Provides an answer, where possible, to the title.
  • Reminds your reader how you reached that answer.

The conclusion should usually occupy just one paragraph. It draws together all the key elements of your essay, so you do not need to repeat the fine detail unless you are highlighting something.

A conclusion to our essay about cats and dogs is given below:

Both cats and dogs have been highly-valued for millenia, are affectionate and beneficial to their owners’ wellbeing. However, they are very different animals and each is 'better' than the other regarding care needs and natural traits. Dogs need regular training and exercise but many owners do not train or exercise them enough, resulting in bad behaviour. They also need to be 'boarded' if the owner is away and to have frequent baths to prevent bad odours. In contrast, cats do not need this level of effort and care. Dogs are seen as more intelligent, loyal and attuned to human beings, whereas cats are perceived as aloof and solitary, and as only seeking affection when they want to be fed. However, recent studies have shown that cats are affectionate and loyal and more intelligent than dogs, but it is less obvious and useful. There are, for example, no 'police' or 'assistance' cats, in part because they do not have the kinds of natural instincts which make dogs easy to train. Therefore, which animal is better depends upon personal preference and whether they are required to work. Therefore, although dogs are better as working animals, cats are easier, better pets.

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Better Essays: Signposting

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APA 7th referencing style

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Tips on using headings

Five levels of headings.

  • Book chapter
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  • Dictionary or encyclopaedia
  • Government legislation
  • Journal article
  • Lecture notes and slides
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  • Newspaper or magazine article
  • Other web sources
  • Patents and standards
  • Personal communication
  • Press (media) release
  • Secondary source (indirect citation)
  • Social media
  • Software and mobile apps
  • Specialised health information
  • Television program
  • Works in non-English languages
  • Works in non-English scripts, such as Arabic or Chinese
  • There are five levels of headings
  • All headings work from the top level down, regardless of how many subheadings in the section
  • Each section begins with the top level heading, regardless of how many subheadings are used within the section
  • Do not use numbers or letters as labels in headings 
  • Do not use Introduction as your first heading
  • Place the title at the top of the first page
  • Use regular font in title case (all words except words like and, to, a, the are capitalised. These words are capitalised if first word in title).
  • Bold and centre the title.

Outcome of Parenting Intervention

Group Support

Large Groups

Small Groups.

Children Aged 3-5.

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Essay writing: Formatting

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Jump to content on this page:

Essays are formal documents and should look professional Advice from the Skills Team

Whilst there are no hard rules about how you format essays, there are some conventions and common practices that are best to follow. If you use the settings on this page, you will produce an acceptably formatted essay.

Document layout

Visual display of the information on this page.

Margins - between 2 cm and 2.54 cm (1 inch) all around.

Line spacing - either 1.5 or double-line spacing.

Paragraph spacing - either 1 clear line between or at least 8 pt space after each paragraph (more if double-line spaced)

Alignment - left aligned (fully justified with a straight right-edge is not recommended as this reduces readability and accessibility). Some longer essays may require subheadings which should also be left-aligned.

Indents - no indents on first lines of paragraphs are needed.

It is also good practice to put your student number and module number in the header of the document and a page number at the bottom of the page.

Text formatting

Font - the default font that comes with MS Word (currently Calibri) is fine for academic work. You may see persistent advice in handbooks that suggests you should use Times New Roman or Arial. If you prefer these, you can change it - but this is no longer a requirement.

Font size - fonts should be 11 or 12 point.

Font style - headings and subheadings, if they are required (most essays will not use them), are usually formatted in bold and should be at least 2 point sizes larger than the standard text. Underlining should be avoided as this is seen as rather dated. Some text can be formatted in italics - see our page  Italics, when to use them , for guidance.

Shorter quotations in the text do not need to be italicised and should have double-quotations marks "like this" to indicate they are direct quotations. Longer quotations (what counts as this differs depending on your referencing style) should be created in their own paragraph, single spaced and indented by 1cm from both left and right margins:

For example:

Graduate attributes for employability are described as:

a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy. (Yorke, 2006)

The main change in this definition compared to the earlier definition of graduate attributes from Bowden (2000) is that that the attributes are no longer ...

UoH Harvard/APA

Your reference list should be in alphabetical order (by author surname) and single line spaced. There should be a clear line space (or at least 6 pt space) between each reference. All references should be left-aligned with no indentation. For information about how to format individual references, see the Harvard Hull Referencing Guide.

UoH Footnotes

Your reference list should be in alphabetical order (by first author surname) and single line spaced.  All references should be left-aligned and have a hanging indent (all but the first line are indented by approx. 1cm). For information about how to format individual references, see the  Footnotes Hull Referencing Guide.

Other referencing styles

Please see your individual departmental guidance.

We provide here a Microsoft Word template that can be used for your essays. It has the correct layout and formatting, including useful styles.

  • Essay template

Download this template to somewhere you can access easily. When you click to open it, it will open a new document based on the template , leaving the original intact.

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How to Write Essay Titles and Headers

The deadline for your latest writing assignment is mere minutes away. You’re rushing to get the final details together and suddenly realize you’ve forgotten a title. You quickly throw something random on top of the page and submit it to your teacher.

You’re not satisfied with your title, but you vow to do better next time. And you will!

Waiting until last minute to come up with a title for your writing assignment is never a good idea. This is the first detail your readers notice and should not only prepare them for what they’ll read but intrigue them as well.

You’ve learned from your mistake: essay titles are not a last-minute detail. They’re an integral part of any piece of written work and should be planned out earlier on in the writing process.

Titles lead to your reader’s first impression of your essay, and the headings help organize your thoughts and make the essay easier to read. Let’s take a look at how you can turn your titles from an afterthought into a well-thought-out writing element.

How Do You Write a Great Title?

People DO judge a book by its cover, and they will judge your essay by its title. So writing a strong title is an important part of starting your writing off on the right foot.

Your essay title has two main functions:

  • Inform your reader
  • Spark your reader’s interest

Additionally, keep in mind these three pointers:

Be clear and concise

Vague titles do not inform the reader. Provide a specific description of what your focus will be. Your audience wants to know precisely what they will be reading.

Bad Example: Oceans

Good Example: Disappearing Ocean Life in the Pacific Rim

Offer an exciting tidbit or interesting fact

If your title is boring, readers will not want to keep reading. Offer them something that will get attention.

Bad Example: How Consumers are Wrongly Spending Money

Good Example: The Seven Million Dollar Mistake

Everyone may be writing a college admissions essay, but don’t title yours: My College Admissions Essay . No matter what the prompt, make your title something that stands out from the stack.

Bad Example: My Research Project

Good Example: Relocating the Human Race to Mars

How Do You Create a Great Header?

Essay headers are often overlooked by writers, but they can really help your readers as they journey through your essay. While the title may get the reader hooked, the headers keep them moving smoothly through your paper. They enhance readability and help explain what is most relevant in the essay.

Each essay header should answer these two questions:

  • What will I learn?
  • What is the focus?

When readers approach a new section of your essay, they will have a better reading experience if they have a small preview of what’s to come.

Essay headers should answer two questions for your reader: What will I learn? and What is the focus?

Writing a useful header should be relatively easy. Read through your paragraphs and see what the main idea of is. From here, make a list of sub-topics that are discussed in each section. The best way to do this is to pull from the main points you listed out in your outline (which you, of course, remembered to do!).

Remember the following details about writing a header:

Be simple, but informative

You don’t want to give away all of your ideas here, but you need to give some guiding information.

Bad Example: Eating Too Many Fatty Foods Can Increase Your Cholesterol Levels

Good Example: How Your Diet Affects Your Health

Be consistent throughout your essay.

Choose a pattern and stick with it throughout the entirety of the assignment. If you start off by having a heading for each paragraph, keep it that way until the end. Also, make sure the format remains the same. If your first heading is in the form of a question, all of the rest should be as well.

Bad Example: Beaches, What is Up With Littering?, I Want to Clean Up the Planet

Good Example: Neglected Beaches, Effects of Litter, Motivated Activists

Just like when you are writing a title, there are generic headings you can lean on to get it done quick and easy. But don’t use these. Your conclusion shouldn’t have the header, "Conclusion." Come up with something unique for each part of your essay to keep your reader from feeling fatigued as they read on.

Bad Example: Conclusion

Good Example: Will the Pandas Survive?

Be organized and helpful

Your essay should be scannable. This means that if someone needs information fast, they can find it without having to read every word of your piece.

Although titles and headers are often neglected, they are very important to your pieces of writing. They grab your reader’s attention from the start and keep them focused throughout the rest of your essay. Taking the time to craft great titles and headers can advance your writing to the next level.

Don’t overlook the title and section headers when putting together your next writing assignment. Follow these pointers for keeping your writing organized and effective.

101 Standout Argumentative Essay Topic Ideas

Need a topic for your upcoming argumentative essay? We've got 100 helpful prompts to help you get kickstarted on your next writing assignment.

Writing a Standout College Admissions Essay

Your personal statement is arguably the most important part of your college application. Follow these guidelines for an exceptional admissions essay.

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MLA Style specifies guidelines for formatting manuscripts and citing research in writing. MLA Style also provides writers with a system for referencing their sources through parenthetical citation in their essays and Works Cited pages. 

Writers who properly use MLA also build their credibility by demonstrating accountability to their source material. Most importantly, the use of MLA style can protect writers from accusations of plagiarism, which is the purposeful or accidental uncredited use of source material produced by other writers. 

If you are asked to use MLA format, be sure to consult the  MLA Handbook  (9th edition). Publishing scholars and graduate students should also consult the  MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing  (3rd edition). The  MLA Handbook  is available in most writing centers and reference libraries. It is also widely available in bookstores, libraries, and at the MLA web site. See the Additional Resources section of this page for a list of helpful books and sites about using MLA Style.

Paper Format

The preparation of papers and manuscripts in MLA Style is covered in part four of the  MLA Style Manual . Below are some basic guidelines for formatting a paper in  MLA Style :

General Guidelines

  • Type your paper on a computer and print it out on standard, white 8.5 x 11-inch paper.
  • Double-space the text of your paper and use a legible font (e.g. Times New Roman). Whatever font you choose, MLA recommends that the regular and italics type styles contrast enough that they are each distinct from one another. The font size should be 12 pt.
  • Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks (unless otherwise prompted by your instructor).
  • Set the margins of your document to 1 inch on all sides.
  • Indent the first line of each paragraph one half-inch from the left margin. MLA recommends that you use the “Tab” key as opposed to pushing the space bar five times.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor may ask that you omit the number on your first page. Always follow your instructor's guidelines.)
  • Use italics throughout your essay to indicate the titles of longer works and, only when absolutely necessary, provide emphasis.
  • If you have any endnotes, include them on a separate page before your Works Cited page. Entitle the section Notes (centered, unformatted).

Formatting the First Page of Your Paper

  • Do not make a title page for your paper unless specifically requested or the paper is assigned as a group project. In the case of a group project, list all names of the contributors, giving each name its own line in the header, followed by the remaining MLA header requirements as described below. Format the remainder of the page as requested by the instructor.
  • In the upper left-hand corner of the first page, list your name, your instructor's name, the course, and the date. Again, be sure to use double-spaced text.
  • Double space again and center the title. Do not underline, italicize, or place your title in quotation marks. Write the title in Title Case (standard capitalization), not in all capital letters.
  • Use quotation marks and/or italics when referring to other works in your title, just as you would in your text. For example:  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas  as Morality Play; Human Weariness in "After Apple Picking"
  • Double space between the title and the first line of the text.
  • Create a header in the upper right-hand corner that includes your last name, followed by a space with a page number. Number all pages consecutively with Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), one-half inch from the top and flush with the right margin. (Note: Your instructor or other readers may ask that you omit the last name/page number header on your first page. Always follow instructor guidelines.)

Here is a sample of the first page of a paper in MLA style:

This image shows the first page of an MLA paper.

The First Page of an MLA Paper

Section Headings

Writers sometimes use section headings to improve a document’s readability. These sections may include individual chapters or other named parts of a book or essay.

MLA recommends that when dividing an essay into sections you number those sections with an Arabic number and a period followed by a space and the section name.

MLA does not have a prescribed system of headings for books (for more information on headings, please see page 146 in the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing , 3rd edition). If you are only using one level of headings, meaning that all of the sections are distinct and parallel and have no additional sections that fit within them, MLA recommends that these sections resemble one another grammatically. For instance, if your headings are typically short phrases, make all of the headings short phrases (and not, for example, full sentences). Otherwise, the formatting is up to you. It should, however, be consistent throughout the document.

If you employ multiple levels of headings (some of your sections have sections within sections), you may want to provide a key of your chosen level headings and their formatting to your instructor or editor.

Sample Section Headings

The following sample headings are meant to be used only as a reference. You may employ whatever system of formatting that works best for you so long as it remains consistent throughout the document.

Formatted, unnumbered:

Level 1 Heading: bold, flush left

Level 2 Heading: italics, flush left

Level 3 Heading: centered, bold

Level 4 Heading: centered, italics

Level 5 Heading: underlined, flush left

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How to Use an Essay Subheading Properly

Table of Contents

Some essay sub-headings are similar to signposts of topics you will discuss in your paper. They are simply a way to split your ideas into sections.

An essay subheading can act in both ways of the descriptions mentioned above, depending on how the sub-heading is used in your paper.

Proper use of essay subheadings is a process that builds bridges and can make your essay flow from start to end.

Essay writing is easy when a well-written essay subheading is used. The sub-heading is a process that helps make your essay read better and look attractive.

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What Exactly is an Essay Subheading?

A sub-heading is a short, descriptive sentence that provides information about the content of the section to which it is found. A sub-heading is used to distinguish the main points of an essay from one another.

For example, i f you choose to write about ‘Horses on a Beach’ then your heading might say ‘Movies and Horses on a Beach’.

An essay sub heading is your heading for each essay that is underneath the larger essay title. Usually you have to have all subheadings included in the index so that it can be read.

How do I learn how to write subheadings in an essay?

You can learn best by reading through some top quality essays and analyzing the way they are structured. Another way to learn is by writing many essays by hand. Let’s dive into how to use headings in essays.

How to use Headings in an Essay

Ordinarily, essays do not have headings. All they have are templates and structures. Hence, the six major parts of an essay are:

  • Title of Essay
  • Introduction
  • The first paragraph a.k.a. The Body
  • Second paragraph
  • Third paragraph (depends on the length of essay).
  • Conclusion. Those are the basic structure of any outstanding essay. However, in your essay writing, you might be allowed to utilize headings. Also, for more extended essays, individuals can use headings.

Headings in an essay are same as sections of an essay. To properly give good headings to your essay, you have to know your topic well.

Also, you need to make your decision about the coverage of your topic. This help you to define your headings and divide your writing into appropriate headings (sections).

How to use Subheadings in an Essay

Additionally, quality heads will produce quality subheadings. Really, it’s that easy. You won’t be able to organize your topic properly without headings and subheadings. If you don’t do a great job of researching and learning about it before you start writing.

We use subheadings to go into further detail on a specific part of your essay’s main heading.

Example : Essay Topic:  The effect of pollution on our ecosystem. Heading 1:  Definition of key terms. Heading 2 : Pollution and the ecosystem. An example of a  subheading  under this heading could be: Effect of pollution to the balance of the ecosystem.

In order to create more impact on your essay, you have to know how to use headings. It is informative and allows the reader to know what the essay is about before reading the content.

An essay title, on the other hand, is the main description of the content of your essay. Like subtitles, it tells the reader what they will encounter as they scroll down.

How to Use an Essay Subheading Properly

Abir Ghenaiet

Abir is a data analyst and researcher. Among her interests are artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing. As a humanitarian and educator, she actively supports women in tech and promotes diversity.

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How To Use Header Tags: SEO Best Practices

Boost your SEO with effective header tag usage. Learn how to optimize header tags to improve content scannability, search engine visibility, and user experience.

should i use headings in an essay

Header tags are a fundamental element of web design and SEO , influencing user experience and search rankings .

While often overlooked, these HTML tags provide a hierarchical structure to content, enhancing readability and navigation for human visitors.

At the same time, header tags offer semantic signals that help search engines better understand context and key topics.

Google’s guidance reinforces the need to use header tags strategically.

John Mueller, a Google Search Advocate, has stated that header elements are a “really strong signal” that informs Google’s understanding of a page’s topics.

As Google emphasizes rewarding high-quality user experiences, optimizing header tags presents an opportunity to align with best practices for human visitors and search crawlers.

This article outlines how to use header tags, from enhancing content structure and scannability to targeting opportunities for featured snippet displays.

We also explore techniques for incorporating relevant keywords and maintaining consistent formatting.

By implementing these recommendations, websites can provide a better experience while potentially boosting visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs).

What Is A Header Tag?

Header tags are HTML tags that tell a browser what styling it should use to display a piece of text on a webpage.

If we looked up the HTML for the heading above, it’d look something like this:

<h2>What is a Header Tag?</h2>

Like headings in print content, header tags are used to title or introduce the content below them. HTML header tags follow a hierarchy from <h1> to <h6>.

  • H1 tags denote the most important text, such as the central theme or title.
  • H2 and H3 tags are commonly used as subheadings.
  • H4, H5, and H6 tags provide further structure within those subsections.

Header tags are helpful for users and search engines. For your users, they give them a preview of the content they’re about to read.

For search engines like Google, header tags provide context and a hierarchy for your page. Think of header tags as chapter titles in a book.

Give them a quick scan, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it’s about.

How Many Header Tags Are Supported?

HTML supports six levels of header tags, ranging from <h1> to <h6>.

The <h1> tag is typically used for the main heading or title of a page, while <h2> and <h3> tags are commonly employed for subheadings.

The remaining tags, <h4>, <h5>, and <h6>, can provide further structure within subsections.

Now, let’s get to the best practices.

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1. Use Header Tags To Provide Structure

Header tags help create a logical structure for your content, making it easier for users and search engines to navigate.

Treat your H1 as the main title, H2s as chapters, and H3s to H6s as subsections within each chapter.

When planning your article or landing page, consider the main ideas you want your visitors to take away. These main ideas should form the basis of your header tags and help you create a clear outline.

2. Break Up Blocks Of Text With Subheadings

Break up long blocks of text with relevant subheadings to enhance readability. This makes your content more user-friendly and helps search engines identify covered topics.

A scannable article is positioned to perform well in search engines because Google rewards user-friendly content.

Additionally, scannable articles are commonly shared on social media, which can increase the likelihood of earning natural backlinks.

3. Include Keywords In Your Header Tags

Include your target keywords in header tags where appropriate, but avoid overusing them. Focus on creating informative and engaging headers that accurately reflect the content below them.

While keywords are essential, it’s important not to force them in at the expense of readability.

Google uses header tags to gather context for your page, so incorporate keywords naturally.

Always prioritize creating value and avoid keyword stuffing, which can lead to a poor experience and potential penalties.

4. Optimize For Featured Snippets

Carefully crafted header tags can increase your chances of winning featured snippets.

Here’s how.

Paragraph Featured Snippets

To optimize for paragraph-featured snippets, identify a relevant long-tail keyword and use it in your H2.

Then, directly below the H2, provide a clear and concise answer to the query, placing the text within <p> paragraph tags.

This structure helps Google identify and extract the information it needs.

For example, Search Engine Journal won this featured snippet for “ How to remove default search engine in Chrome? ” in part thanks to its keyword-optimized H2:


List Featured Snippets

To optimize for list featured snippets, use subheadings (H2 to H6) to outline different items or steps in a process.

Google can pull from these subheadings to create a bulleted or numbered list in the featured snippet, increasing your visibility and driving more traffic to your site.

Here’s an example.

When you search for [how to relieve migraine fast], Google creates a list of answers using the H2s from this WebMD article.

Feature Snippets

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5. Only Use One H1

While multiple H1s are technically allowed, using only one H1 per page is best. This maintains a clear hierarchy and avoids confusion for users and search engines.

Using multiple H1s can make your page appear disorganized. Instead, reserve the H1 tag for your main title and use H2 to H6 tags for subheadings.

To ensure your site doesn’t have multiple H1s, run your domain through a crawler tool like Screaming Frog and check the H1 tab to identify any pages with missing or numerous H1s.

Screaming Frog H1s

The same report is available for H2s.

6. Keep Your Header Tags Consistent

Ensure your header tags follow a consistent style and format throughout your website.

This includes using the same case (title or sentence case), keeping them concise, and limiting their length to around 70 characters.

Consistency in your header tags contributes to a better experience and helps establish a cohesive brand image.

When deciding on a format, consider your target audience and the tone of your content. Once you’ve chosen a style, apply it consistently across all your pages.

In addition to maintaining a consistent format, keep your header tags concise and to the point.

Treat them like mini-titles for the following section of text, and avoid using them to stuff keywords or write lengthy paragraphs.

7. Make Your Header Tags Interesting

Write interesting, engaging header tags that entice readers to continue reading your content.

Pay special attention to your H1, as it can decide whether visitors stay on your page or bounce back to the search results.

A compelling H1 should communicate the main topic of your page and align with the user’s search intent.

Take the time to brainstorm and refine your header tags, ensuring they accurately reflect the content and entice users to keep reading.

Why Header Tags Are Important For SEO

Header tags play a role in SEO by enhancing user experience, providing context to search engines, and increasing the chances of securing featured snippets.

This can potentially lead to better rankings, increased visibility, and higher engagement rates.

Descriptive headings allow readers to skim and jump to relevant sections.

For search crawlers, headers give semantic cues about the context and priority of page content.

Don’t underestimate the SEO power of header tags. Make them a top priority when optimizing your content.

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More resources:

  • Meta Tags: What You Need To Know For SEO
  • How To Conduct A Content Audit Step-By-Step

The Complete Guide to On-Page SEO

Featured image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

Amelia Willson is a freelance writer, content marketer and SEO strategist who helps businesses succeed online. A graduate of Wellesley ...


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