Think about what you do when you look at a page and see a never-ending chunk of unbroken text. A non-stop flow of information and shortened attention span means that you don’t read content published on the web—you scan for key information. Since 79% of your users do the same, scannable content is essential to a good user experience.
Headings help users scan your content by highlighting key messages. Since headings are usually larger or a different color than surrounding text, readers can easily identify with just a glance what the sections are about.
Brief headings packed with key messages are essential to scannable content. There are a few best practices that will help you paint colorful headings that grab attention and provide value.
Stick to a Structure
Every heading you write should be in the same grammatical structure as the other headings in that level. For example, if the sections encourage action, begin every heading at that level with a verb.
One way to maintain consistency is to double check that you are using parallel language. For instance, if your first heading is “Use Resources Effectively” then your second heading should be “Plan for the Future”, not “Planning for the Future”. Whatever structure you choose, stick to it.
Deliver on Expectations
Along with staying consistent in structure, you should ensure that your headings are relevant and deliver on the title. Even if a user reads only the title and headings, they should be provided with an outline of information the copy contains.
This outline of information should stay true to the experience your audience is anticipating. Note their level of expertise with the topic and expectation of formality. Playful headings are a great way to create excitement in a case study on intern involvement but may not be appropriate when writing a guide to dealing with employee conflicts.
Reveal Just Enough
Communicating your key messages through your headings is important, but what about the body text you put so much work into? This is where headings become more of an art than a science. Good headings are a delicate balance between providing an informative outline and withholding enough information to persuade your reader to learn more.
There are three characteristics you should strive to have in your headings: interesting, informative, and enticing.
Interesting headings are the opposite of the boring, state-the-obvious headings that schools have gotten us used to writing. If you find yourself writing plain headings, try adding verbs and consider what your audience will find interesting.
However, being too creative can be a problem if your readers get lost trying to find the relevance. If you find this to be an issue, make your headings more informative so the user knows what the sections will be about. Provide a clear link to the tile, but don’t give too much information away.
You want to be informative, but make sure you aren’t giving away the punchline before the audience reads the section. Enticing headings keep back just enough information to tempt the reader to read the body text.
Good user experience involves more than just design—the written content needs to be exceptional as well. Master the art of writing headings to effectively communicate your key messages and get more eyeballs on the content you work hard to produce.