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subheadings for essays

Can an Essay Have Subheadings, Subtitles or Subtopics?

Can an Essay have Subheading

  • peachyessay
  • October 13, 2022
  • Blogs , Essay Writing Guideline

Some argue that an essay doesn’t contain subheadings, subtitles, or subtopics . Others would contend the opposite. No matter how you slice it, using subheadings, subtitles and subtopics are essential for communicating your ideas efficiently while avoiding confusing your readers.

Can an essay have subheadings, subtitles, or subtopics? Many students wonder about this, especially those just beginning to write essays . Fortunately, the answer is “yes” – your essay does have subheadings and other divisions within the essay. Subtopics can be used to organize the material in longer essays.

Before you start thinking about writing the body of your essay, it is important to organize the information you want to present, and many students forget this very important step. The most popular way of organizing information in an essay is by using headings, subtitles, and subtopics. You may be wondering if an essay can have subtitles. Yes, sure, it can, and here is how you can effectively write my essay .

What are Subheadings in a Paper?

Subheadings are smaller titles that appear below the main heading or above a section of text. Subheadings are a part of the outline for a longer paper. They help organize the paper and make it easier to read. They also divide up the information in a paper into easily digestible sections.

The first paragraph of each section should begin with a topic sentence that clearly states what the section is about. This helps readers immediately understand where they are in the paper, even if they have never seen it before.

Subheadings are useful because they help organize your thoughts, but they don’t need to be used all across your paper. For instance, you might use subheadings when discussing different topics within one section or every other paragraph within a single topic. In general, you should use subheadings when:

  • Your topic is complex and requires many points to be discussed;
  • You have many different points to make on one particular topic; or
  • You think readers will find it helpful or interesting to see how your ideas fit together.

How to Write Subtitles in an Essay

A good subtitle should be catchy, informative and relevant to the main topic. You can use words like “how to” or “why.” The point of your subtitle should be to help readers understand what they will learn from reading your essay .

You can also use subtitles as hooks, especially if you are writing an academic essay like an MLA paper, where every sentence counts toward your word count. The following are some tips on how to write a subtitle in an essay:

Try framing your question as the heading

The use of a question as a heading can entice readers to keep reading. All you have to do is make sure the solution is presented early on. This advice is especially useful for non-fiction readers.

Be as clear and unambiguous as possible

To attract more readers, craft a headline that does not waste their time getting to the point. Subheadings, even if they’re just simple, give readers a break and make it easier for them to decide whether or not to continue reading.

Formatting simple 

Headings do not require bold, italics, or underlining. When put together, they’re too much. It’s just a little bit of guts. Also, no need to shout in capital letters. They make it harder for everyone to read quickly and efficiently.

Keep the typeface simple and neat

Experts disagree on which font is easiest to read, but I agree with the consensus that serif fonts like Times New Roman are ideal for body copy. Sans serif fonts, like Arial, work best for headings.

Make use of headings and subheadings to arrange your data better

Use short subheadings that tell the reader what to expect next if you want to appeal to a larger audience. Don’t waste your readers’ time the next time you sit down to write; instead, use these easy strategies to hook and keep them.

Format for the 5 APA-style Heading Levels

Uses the format shown here for the five levels of headings required by APA style. Though the headings in the sample are titled “First Level,” “Second Level,” and so on, your paper’s headings should be more specifically titled to reflect the content they describe.

The first level

Each word in a heading at the top level is capitalized and italicized, and the heading itself is bold and centred. Please start typing your paragraph on the new line below, indenting it five spaces to the left.

Second level

The second-level heading is bolded, aligned flush left, and all the initial letters of the words in the heading are capitalized. Paragraph text should start on a new line, five spaces to the left of the previous line.

Third level

Subheading 3 is bold, aligned five spaces to the left, and terminated with a period. All proper nouns and headings should be capitalized. The first paragraph that follows this heading should be typed on the same line.

Fourth level

It uses bold, italics, a five-space left indent, and a period for the fourth level of the heading. Only the first letter of the heading and proper nouns should be capitalized. The first paragraph that follows this heading should be typed on the same line.

Fifth Level

The period comes after the italicized, five-space-to-the-left-aligned heading for the fifth level. All proper nouns and headings should be capitalized. The first paragraph that follows this heading should be typed on the same line.

11 Benefits of Using Subtopics

The following are some advantages of using subtopics:

  • It helps readers understand complex topics better: When you write about a complex topic in detail, readers will find it difficult to understand everything at once. Using subtopics can help break down your main idea into smaller parts so that readers can focus on one aspect at a time.
  • It helps writers organize their thoughts: If you are writing an article that covers several aspects of a topic, subtopics will help you organize your thoughts and ideas on each aspect separately before compiling them into one main article or post. This will make it easier for readers to follow along and for writers like yourself who do not have much experience writing long posts or articles yet.
  • It makes your content SEO-friendly, which improves your website’s ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). This can help you get more traffic from organic search and ultimately increase your website or blog sales. They also help with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) because search engines like Google rank websites higher when they have well-written articles with keywords throughout them!
  • It creates a sense of structure and organization for readers who visit your website or blog for information about a specific topic that interests them most about the subject matter at hand. For example, suppose you’re writing about how to build a new deck in your home. In that case, you can break down the process into different steps, such as getting permits, choosing materials and tools, building the frame, installing rails and stairs, etc., so that readers don’t have to go through all of your content just to find what they’re looking for; they can simply scroll down until they reach the section that interests them most and starts reading there instead (which will also make them happier customers).
  • Subtopic pages are easier to rank for your target keyword(s) because they’re generally more specific than the broader parent page they belong to.
  • Google tends to prefer subtopics over its parent pages when it comes to choosing which one it ranks at the top of its search results. If you have many subtopics about one main topic, Google will choose which subtopic best suits a particular user’s needs. This means that you can use subtopics to optimize your website for multiple search terms at once!
  • Subtopic pages tend to attract more links from other sites than their parent pages do because they are more specific (and thus relevant), which makes them more likely to be shared on social networks and other websites.
  • You can create an outline for each subtopic that is specific to your paper’s content and structure; this will help direct your research and make it easier to organize your thoughts in writing.
  • Since each subtopic has its own unique information, each one will also have its own bibliography page at the end of your research paper; this means that there won’t be any duplicate citations within the body of the text itself because each citation will only appear once in the bibliography section at the end of your research paper!
  • By using subtopics, you can provide more details about your products/services without making it too complicated for customers to read through them all at once
  • Subtopics allow users to skim through your website without having to read everything at once – this makes things simpler for them!

The Best Way to Write Subheadings

Subheadings are one of the most important components of any business document. They help the reader to follow your writing and understand the content easily. The best ways to write subheadings are below:

First, let’s take a look at some of the things that people look for when it comes to writing good subheadings:

  • The content should be informative
  • It should be written in an active voice
  • The headings should be concise
  • The headings must contain catchy titles.

1. Employ a symmetrical framework

Similarities in word or phrase patterns are known as parallel structures. They facilitate the reader’s understanding of your message. Headings that use the same grammar are easier to remember and stand out more. For instance, consider the following:

Title of article: Advice on Laying Tiles in Your Own Home

  • Subheader 1: Preparing Your House
  • Subheader 2: Identifying the Best Tiles
  • Subheading 3: Understanding Your Lateral Tilt
  • Subheading 4: Tiling and Fastening
  • Subheading 5: Allowing Ceramic Tiles to Air Dry

Grammar-wise, the subheadings in the preceding examples are consistent because they all use words with the same ending pattern (-ing). Such as obtaining, selecting, determining, etc. Using verbs (such as evaluate, write, and edit) or a question format for each subheading is another example of parallel structure use in headings.

2. Keep it fun, but relevant

Subheadings that try to be funny by using puns or cliches may come off as trite to the reader. Sometimes writers rely on tools like puns, phrases, or clichéd sayings when they are unsure of how to describe the paragraph they have written in a more succinct, real way; naming a section in your dating article “Its Raining Men!” might feel like a fun choice.

  • Please explain the relevance of this paragraph.
  • Which of the following best summarizes the key point(s) of this paragraph?
  • To what end am I presenting this paragraph?

You may find the answers lead you to a subheading that serves as a preview for your paragraph. Perhaps “The Best Places to Meet Men” would make a more appropriate subheading. Since they have an idea of what they’re getting into, the reader will be more motivated to keep going.

3. Adjust the length of any subheadings 

Though the subheadings’ contents may vary, they should all be the same length for coherence’s sake. If some are very short while others are very long, it will be very noticeable to the reader. Subheadings should not be too long (no more than five or six words) so that the impact of the sentence is not diminished. Subheadings necessitate a high degree of word economy or the art of selecting words with minimal repetition because each and every one of those words must be used to maximum effect.

4. Drop the coded language

A common pitfall of coming up with subheadings is the instinct to make them clever. This is great because it increases the likelihood of a successful subheading being both interesting and original; however, it is important not to mislead the reader.

5. To introduce new topics

Use subheadings as an opportunity to introduce new topics and tie them together logically with other parts of your document. A good way to do this is by using an introductory phrase before each subheading, such as “Next,” or “Also.” For example:

  • “What Are Subheadings?”
  • “Why Use Subheadings?”
  • “When Should You Use Subheadings?”

6. Ensure your writing style and tone are consistent

You should make sure that the writing style and tone are consistent throughout your entire article. If you have been using informal language, then you should continue using the same tone for all your headings as well. You can also use bold fonts for headings if you want them to stand out from the rest of your content. Make sure that your headings do not contain too many words so that reading becomes easier for users and also ensure that there are no grammatical errors in them so that readers get an accurate idea about your content from first glance itself.

Bottom Line

An essay can have subtitles, subtopics and sub-sections when you are writing on a topic that needs appropriate explanation or details. You can use subtitles to divide the overall topic into smaller sections, which is helpful in putting across an argument or proving points. Subtopics can be used to provide details of some specific aspect in a particular section.

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10 Steps on How To Write An “A” Paper

By:   Kristopher Crawford-Dickinson

Step One:                 Follow Directions:   Always, always, always follow the directions you are given.   Part of the assignment is to see if students can follow directions.   Also note that the directions outline the minimal expectations of the paper.   If you do not follow the directions, you are throwing away easy marks.   For example, if you are asked to give 10 sources, give at least 10 sources .   Even better, give two or three more – it shows initiative (always looks good).

Step Two:                “Nail” Introduction:   One of the most important aspects of a paper is to make a good first impression.   TA’s and Professors only have a limited amount of marking time.   Therefore, if the introduction is “nailed”, it will start you off on the right footing.   Incidentally, a “nailed” introduction also helps ensure that you paper is well organized.

A good introduction will have a clear and concise thesis that informs the reader what you are writing about and why you are writing about it.

“Nail” Conclusion:   One of the most important aspects of a paper is to leave a lasting good impression.   Again, TA’s and Professors only have a limited amount of marking time.   Therefore, if the conclusion is “nailed”, it will leave the TA/Professor with a “good feeling” when deciding what the grade should be.

A good conclusion will summarize the main points of the paper.   It will also try to leave the TA/Professor with some “food for thought”.

In the final analysis, it is ironic that the current symbol of justice is a blindfolded woman holding scales.   The symbol is to denote fair and equal justice for justice is to be truly blind and equitable when being delivered.   This, however, is obviously not the case for female tort victims.   The compensation level for their loss of future earning capacity is predicated on a highly gendered construction of equality that is fundamentally rooted in both a patriarchal society and an artificial public-private division and has resulted in a clear compensatory gap between the sexes.   If this situation is not corrected by using the legal means identified above, then perhaps the symbol of justice needs to be changed to a man that is winking one eye at the scales while holding a finger to his smiling mouth in the ‘shush’ pose to reflect the true nature of justice since the current compensatory gap between male and female tort victims is not blind, equitable nor fundamentally just.

Note:   If you “nail” your introduction and conclusion, chances are you will end up with a higher mark (i.e. as long as the body is average, you will likely been given the “benefit of the doubt” on your mark).

Step Three: Treat Paper As An “Hourglass”:   Treat the paper as if it is an hourglass when you are writing it.   Your introduction should start off broad and be narrowed down to your thesis, which should be the last sentence of your first paragraph (represents top of the hourglass).   Your second paragraph should then state how the paper is going to be organized.  

Then, move into the body of the paper (represents the area where the sand passes through).   This is considered the narrow part of the paper because your points of argument are being focused on your thesis.

Your conclusion should start off narrow and then broaden out (represents the bottom of the hourglass).   It starts off narrow because you are summarizing your arguments from your body.   It then broadens out as you leave the reader with some “food for thought”.

Step Four:              Use Subheadings:   Always, always, always use sub-headings in your paper.   They help to organize your thoughts.   Further, each sub-heading can be treated as a mini essay itself with its own introduction, middle and conclusion.   By using subheadings, you ensure that your thoughts remain on topic within a certain limited area (i.e. if you are talking about “A” under a subheading and then somehow “B” gets mixed in then you know that you are getting off track and need to reorganize).

Subheadings make research easier.   It is easier to organize your research around subheadings (i.e. place them in piles according to the subheadings) then to have one big pile of research.   By organizing this way, you only have to look at the sources that deal with the particular subheading you are writing about rather than trying to pick through the entire pile of research.

Subheadings also make the paper easier to write.   Since it is organized, you will have an easier time of writing the paper.   Further, if you do find that you have writers block, you can put the points of argument under each subheading and then organize it later.

Step Five:                Beginning to Write the Paper – Use Point Form:   Writing a paper can be a daunting task for many students.   Often, they find that they have several great ideas that come to them all at once and therefore have difficultly trying to get all of these ideas on paper.   To combat this, write any and all ideas in point form under the appropriate subheadings.   Do not worry about writing in complete sentences, organization, spelling or grammar.   Get the idea out and on paper.

Once all of the ideas are on paper.   Leave it for a while, if possible.   In doing so, you will ensure that you are not too tied up in your paper.   This also avoids the problem of staring at a blank computer screen.

After some time, come back to your paper and organize your points into a logical sequence.   Leave the paper again, if possible.

After some time, come back to your paper and begin to write your points into sentence and paragraph forms.  

Step Six:                   Writing the Paper – Use Short Sentences:   You should try and write in short, concise sentences.   It makes it easier to read.   Further, your ideas will not get lost if the sentences are short.

Step Seven: Writing the Paper – Use Short Paragraphs – The “Hamburger” Method:   Writing a paragraph is like making a good juicy hamburger.   When writing a paragraph, you should try and keep it as short as possible (minimum of 4 sentences and a maximum of seven sentences).   It is difficult to read long paragraphs and the idea can be lost within the paragraph if it is too long or becomes disorganized.   Remember, a paragraph should be organized along a single though/point of argument.   By following this simple recipe, you will ensure a good grade:

                                                The recipe is as follows:


                                                Top Bun      -             Say what you are going to say (1 sentence)

                                                Condiments       -             Say what you say (1 sentence)

                                                Meat                 -             Prove what you say (1 – 4 sentences)

                                                Bottom Bun       -             Say what you said (1 sentence)

Step Eight: Finishing Paper – After Writing Paper, Leave It For 1 Day:   After you have completed writing your paper, leave it for 1 day.   Set it completely aside and do something else (preferably something you enjoy doing).   Then, come back to the paper and reread it to make sure that the paper sounds proper and you are happy with it.

Step Nine:               Completing Paper – Endnotes/Bibliography/Proof Read:   If you are happy with your paper, begin the final process of completing the paper.   First, make sure you footnotes are formatted correctly (refer to citation guide if need be).   Second, make sure your bibliography is properly formatted (again refer to citation guide if need be).   Finally, have your work proof read by someone else to make sure all spelling and grammatical errors are corrected.   If you do not have anybody else to proof read your work, read it aloud to see if it sounds right.   If it does not sound right to you then there is probably a problem.

Note:   When writing a paper, I prefer to use footnotes rather than the bracket method because it makes doing the bibliography easier.   I have found that you can cut and paste your footnotes into a bibliographical form.   After doing this, all you need to do is switch the authors’ names (i.e. place the last name first) and place the sources in alphabetical order.   This saves typing out the bibliography.

Step Ten:                 Start Early:   When writing a paper, start early.   Do not leave it until the last minute.   Most TA’s and Professors can tell who left their paper until the last minute.   Further, by starting early, it provide you with the opportunity to seek help if you need it and wrinkle out any problems well before the paper is actually due.

Note:   The above method of writing a paper is just one method.   It is, however, the method that I use and I find that it is quite useful.   Further, the students in which I have taught this method have also found that it is quite useful.   This, however, does not mean that everyone will find it useful.   Writing a paper can be difficult and everyone has his or her own way.   Above all, you should choose your own way of writing a paper.   If, however, your method is not working, then feel free to try this method.

Note:   Always, always, always remember that when in doubt, ask for help.

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Basic essay structure

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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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Top Headings and Subheadings Examples: How to Write Great Headers

Writing an essay or article? Study these headings and subheadings examples to make your own even more effective.

Headlines are an important part of writing. The right headings and subheadings draw the reader in and get them excited about the rest of the piece. Yet, writing subheadings and headings is not always easy. Different types of headings carry a different meaning in the piece, and different writing guides require different formatting.

In this guide, you’ll find great subheading examples and learn how to create headings and subheadings that make your writing shine. While you’re here, check out our round-up of essential essay writing skills !

What Are Headings and Subheadings?

Why headings and subheadings matter, examples of great headings, examples of subheadings, subheading best practices, use parallel structure, connect to your title, be succinct, think of subsection headings as a table of contents, a final word on headings and subheadings examples, what are headings and subheadings, how to use headings and subheadings.

Headings and subheadings examples

Headings and subheadings are the lines that outline the piece you’re writing. The heading is also known as the title or header. It tells the main idea of the piece.

Subheadings open the different subsections of the piece or sections of the paper. Writers use headings to break up large chunks of text into more easily read pieces. Subheading examples can help you visualize how headings will work in your piece of writing.

For academic papers, headings provide the reader with a clear outline of the piece. They serve as section labels, pointing the reader to the main ideas. If the reader does not read every word, they can still come away with the basic idea of the paper.

For web-based writing, headings and subheadings have an even more important role. Not only do they keep the reader engaged, but they also provide the search engines with a road map of what the page is about. This perk can help draw search engine traffic to the page.

Writing an Effective Heading

To write an effective heading, you must figure out what you want the main idea of your piece to be. Then, you will need to craft a heading that captures the reader’s attention from the very first word. Reading subheading examples is a great way to study and refine this writing.

To make a heading or title effective, set it apart from the body text. You can use H1 formatting in Word or Google Docs to do this. 

Then, use one of these best practices to create an effective piece:

  • Create a controversy
  • Keep it short
  • Ask a question
  • Offer a number 
  • Offer an explanation

Here are examples of good headings:

  • Do You Ever Make These Marketing Mistakes?
  • 7 Strategies to Get Readers Every Time
  • Tactics Marketers Don’t Want You to Know
  • The Shocking Secret to Relieving Workplace Stress

How to Write Great Subheadings

Headings and subheadings examples

Subheadings are another type of heading, and they do more than grab attention. Subheadings help you keep the reader engaged on the page by guiding them to the information they want.

Subheadings typically fall into three categories. Here is how these break down:

  • H2: The first level of subheading, the H2s are your main outline points or the header for each main section of your piece. 
  • H3: These are the subsections of the main H2 points.
  • H4: The H4 headings are detailed subheadings that break the content down into more specific sections. 

Here are some examples of subheadings that work quite well:

  • Give Your Readers More Information
  • Use This Product to Tighten Loose Skin
  • Effective Subheads Keep Readers Engaged

In addition, your subheadings can be even more simple, just a numbered list of what you are talking about in the piece.

Formatting Headings

To format your headings, you must check the publication manual assigned to the paper or publication. If you are doing this for school, you may also get a sample paper to study.

For APA format papers and works, use these formatting rules:

  • Level 1 Headers (H1 or paper title): Centered on the page, boldface, title case, and the new paragraph text begins on a new line with indentation
  • Level 2 Headers (H2): Flush left, boldface, title case, and the text begins on a new line with indentation 
  • Level 3 headers (H3): Flush left, boldface, italic, title case, and the text begins on a new line with indentation.
  • Level 4 Header (H4): Indented, boldface, title case, period, and the text begins on the same line.
  • Level 5 Header (H5): Indented, boldface, title case, italics, period, and the text begins on the same line.

For MLA format , you will use the following structure:

  • Level 1 Header (H1 or paper title): Boldface, flush left
  • Level 2 Header (H2): Italicized, flush left
  • Level 3 Header (H3): Boldface, centered on the page 
  • Level 4 Header (H4): Italicized, centered on the page
  • Level 5 Header (H5): Underlined, flush left

If you are not using MLA or APA headings, you may simply use the template of the piece you are writing. In Microsoft Word and Google Docs, you can format subheadings as H2, H3 and H4.

When writing subheadings, there are some strategies you can use to make them more effective and engaging. These best practices will make your work cohesive and engaging.

Consider keeping your subheadings parallel in structure. For example, you can start each one with an action verb, such as these subheadings that would work well for an article about selling a home:

  • Get Ready for Your Open House
  • Invite Guests to See the Property
  • Close the Sale on Your Home

Make sure every subheading in your piece has a connection to either the main heading or the subheading that is the next level up. You will confuse your readers if you change the focus of the piece partway through.

So, for a piece that is titled “10 Best Ways to Entertain a Cat,” each subheading would be a way to do so, such as:

1. Use Toys that Dispense Food

2. Schedule Playtime Daily

3. Vary the Toys You Use

Lengthy subheadings rarely work well. Keep them short and sweet. This will draw in the reader and keep the piece moving, without creating wordiness.

This example is too long:

  • 10 Best Practices to Create Headings That Readers Will Click and Read Through the End

You could say the same thing in fewer words, like this:

  • 10 Proven Strategies for Headlines that Convert

If you’re having trouble figuring out the correct use of headings, consider thinking of them as an outline or table of contents. Break down the main ideas in your piece, and then use those ideas to show organization through headers.

Headings and subheadings are powerful tools to get people to read what you have written, but you must use them well. They should be short, to the point, and cohesive with one another. Learning to write effective headings and subheadings is best done through studying examples of these.

The more practice you get with writing headings and subheadings that are in line with these examples, the easier it will be to craft them effectively. Study the examples, then start writing, and soon you will be an expert at crafting effective subheads and titles.

FAQs on Headings and Subheadings Examples

Headings and subheadings serve as the structure of a written piece. They show the main points and guide the reader through the content.

The proper use of headings and subheadings involves crafting the article around these titles and sub-points. They serve as the structure or the “bones” of the piece, giving it the basics that you fill in with the rest of your content.

subheadings for essays

Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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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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Formatting Research Paper Headings and Subheadings

subheadings for essays

Different style guides have different rules regarding the formatting of headings and subheadings in a paper, but what information you should actually put into your subheadings is a different question and often up to personal taste. Here we quickly summarize general guidelines, different approaches, and what not to do when choosing headings for a research paper.

Does it matter how I name my sections and subsections?

The main sections of a research paper have general headers and are often journal-specific, but some (e.g., the methods and discussion section) can really benefit from subsections with clear and informative headers. The things to keep in mind are thus the general style your paper is supposed to follow (e.g., APA, MLA), the specific guidelines the journal you want to submit to lists in their author instructions , and your personal style (e.g., how much information you want the reader to get from just reading your subsection headers). 

Table of Contents:

  • Style Guides: Rules on Headings and Subheadings
  • What Sections and Subsections Do You Need? 
  • How Should You Name Your Sections and Subsections?
  • Avoid These Common Mistakes

research paper headings

Style Guides: Research Paper Heading and Subheading Format

Headers identify the content within the different sections of your paper and should be as descriptive and concise as possible. That is why the main sections of research articles always have the same or very similar headers ( Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion ), with no or only small differences between journals. However, you also need to divide the content of some of these sections (e.g., the method section) into smaller subsections (e.g., Participants, Experimental Design, and Statistical Analysis ), and make sure you follow specific journal formatting styles when doing so. 

If the journal you submit to follows APA style , for example, you are allowed to use up to five levels of headings, depending on the length of your paper, the complexity of your work, and your personal preference. To clearly indicate how each subsection fits into the rest of the text, every header level has a different format – but note that headers are usually not numbered because the different formatting already reflects the text hierarchy.

APA style headings example structure

Level 1 Centered, Bold, Title Case

Text begins as a new paragraph.

Level 2 Left-aligned, Bold, Title Case

Level 3 Left-aligned, Bold Italic, Title Case

Level 4     Indented, Bold, Title Case, Period . Text begins on the same                    

                                 line and continues as a regular paragraph.

Level 5     Indented, Bold Italic, Title Case, Period. Text begins on the                           

                                 same line and continues as a regular paragraph.

If you only need one section header (e.g. Methods ) and one level of subsection headers (e.g., Participants, Experimental Design, and Statistical Analysis ), use Level 1 and Level 2 headers. If you need three levels of headings, use Levels 1, 2, and 3 (and so on). Do not skip levels or combine them in a different way. 

If you write a paper in Chicago style or MLA style , then you don’t need to follow such exact rules for headings and subheadings. Your structure just has to be consistent with the general formatting guidelines of both styles (12-pts Times New Roman font, double-spaced text, 0.5-inch indentation for every new paragraph) and consistent throughout your paper. Make sure the different formatting levels indicate a hierarchy (e.g., boldface for level 1 and italics for level 2, or a larger font size for level 1 and smaller font size for level 2). The main specifics regarding Chicago and MLA headings and subheadings are that they should be written in title case (major words capitalized, most minor words lowercase) and not end in a period. Both styles allow you, however, to number your sections and subsections, for example with an Arabic number and a period, followed by a space and then the section name. 

MLA paper headings example structure

1. Introduction

2. Material and Methods

2.1 Subject Recruitment

2.2 Experimental Procedure

2.3 Statistical Analysis

3.1 Experiment 1

3.2 Experiment 2

4. Discussion

5. Conclusion

What research paper headings do you need?

Your paper obviously needs to contain the main sections ( Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and maybe Conclusion ) and you need to make sure that you name them according to the target journal style (have a look at the author guidelines if you are unsure what the journal style is). The differences between journals are subtle, but some want you to combine the results and discussion sections, for example, while others don’t want you to have a separate conclusion section. You also need to check whether the target journal has specific rules on subsections (or no subsections) within these main sections. The introduction section should usually not be subdivided (but some journals do not mind), while the method section, for example, always needs to have clear subsections.

How to Name Your Sections and Subsections

The method section subheadings should be short and descriptive, but how you subdivide this section depends on the structure you choose to present your work – which can be chronological (e.g., Experiment 1, Experiment 2 ) or follow your main topics (e.g., Visual Experiment, Behavioral Experiment, Questionnaire ). Have a look at this article on how to write the methods for a research paper if you need input on what the best structure for your work is. The method subheadings should only be keywords that tell the reader what information is following, not summaries or conclusions. That means that “ Subject Recruitment ” is a good methods section subheading, but “ Subjects Were Screened Using Questionnaires ” is not.  

The subheadings for the result section should then follow the general structure of your method section, but here you can choose what information you want to put in every subheading. Some authors keep it simple and just subdivide their result section into experiments or measures like the method section, but others use the headings to summarize their findings so that the reader is prepared for the details that follow. You could, for example, simply name your subsections “ Anxiety Levels ” and “ Social Behavior ,” if those are the measures you studied and explained in the method section. 

Or, you could provide the reader with a glimpse into the results of the analyses you are going to describe, and instead name these subsections “ Anxiety-Like Behaviors in Mutant Mice ” and “ Normal Social Behaviors in Mutant Mice .” While keeping headings short and simple is always a good idea, such mini-summaries can make your result section much clearer and easier to follow. Just make sure that the target journal you want to submit to does not have a rule against that. 

Common Heading and Subheading Mistakes 

Subheadings are not sentences.

If your heading reads like a full sentence, then you can most probably omit the verb or generally rephrase to shorten it. That also means a heading should not contain punctuation except maybe colons or question marks – definitely don’t put a period at the end, except when you have reached heading level 4 in the APA formatting style (see above) and the rules say so.  

Be consistent

Always check your numbering, for example for spaces and periods before and after numbers (e.g., 3.2. vs 3.2 ), because readability depends on such features. But also make sure that your headings are consistent in structure and content: Switching between short keyword headings (e.g., “ Experiment 2 ”) and summary headings (e.g., “ Mice Do not Recognize People ”) is confusing and never a good idea. Ideally, subheadings within a section all have a similar structure. If your first subsection is called “ Mice Do not Recognize People ,” then “ People Do not Recognize Mice” is a better subheader for the next subsection than “Do People Recognize Mice? ”, because consistency is more important in a research paper than creativity. 

Don’t overdo it

Not every paragraph or every argument needs a subheading. Only use subheadings within a bigger section if you have more than one point to make per heading level, and if subdividing the section really makes the structure clearer overall.

Before submitting your journal manuscript to academic publishers, be sure to get English editing services , including manuscript editing or paper editing from a trusted source. And receive instant proofreading with Wordvice AI, our ai online editor , which provides unlimited editing while drafting your research work.


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