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4.3 Headings work well together

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Assessing your headings

The best way to assess whether your headings work well together is to review them in a table of contents.

In legislation, a table of contents is automatically generated. In Word documents, you can generate a table of contents under the References tab (you don’t have to keep it in your document once you’ve used it for this purpose).

Table of contents

A table of contents is generated from the headings used in the document. A well-designed table of contents provides:

  • a map of the whole document
  • a quick guide to the location of information by page number
  • an overview of the subject coverage of the document as a whole
  • an overview that the reader can scan to locate a particular area of interest
  • a logical and hierarchical breakdown of the subject matter.

You need to design your headings with the table of contents in mind. Understanding the structure of your document will enable you to apply the appropriate heading levels in the hierarchy. If the headings work well together, readers should identify the relationship between them.

Legislation: How headings work together

Within legislation, headings provide structure, and the size and style of the headings have been designed to clearly indicate the hierarchy of the subject matter.

To get a useful overview of your document, scan the table of contents to check that:

  • the broader to narrower categorisation allows the reader to navigate the document and to drill down to the information they are looking for
  • headings have been used liberally, but sensibly (too many headings will break up the document and upset the flow)
  • the structure will allow the document to evolve over time. It is not possible to fully “future-proof” a document, but you may be able to reduce the likelihood of future problems. For example, if your cross-headings are overly specific, it may mean that a new cross-heading will need to be added for every new provision.

Example 1—Basic legislation heading structure

  Oranga Tamariki Act 1989
  Part 1
Care and protection of children and young persons
  Subpart 2—Family group conferences
  Convening family group conferences
47 Persons entitled to attend family group conference

Keep headings parallel and consistent

Headings must have a parallel structure and be consistent to work well together.

Headings at the same level should generally follow the same grammatical pattern. In Example 2,—

  • the incorrect example includes a mix of heading styles (a question, a noun, the imperative form of a verb, and a heading in gerund form (ending in –ing)
  • the correct example uses a parallel structure with the verb in each heading in gerund form:

Example 2


cross.gif What venues are available?
  Hire the furniture
  Hiring equipment
tick.gif Choosing the venue
  Selecting the menu
  Hiring the furniture
  Hiring the equipment

See more examples

Make most headings approximately the same length and use the same tone:

Example 3

 Access project news Drafting agencies Contact the team

cross.gif Access Project
  Background information on the Access Project at the Parliamentary Counsel Office
  Progress report to October 2017
  Who’s affected?
  How to contact us online
tick.gif Access Project
  About the Access Project
  What the project will achieve

Use sentence, title, and capital case consistently.1

Example 4

cross.gif FIRST STEP: If At First You Don’t Succeed
  3rd Step: where to from here
tick.gif First step: if at first you don’t succeed
  Second step: stuck in the middle with you
  Third step: where to from here

Use a consistent format for each heading level.

Example 5


cross.gif 1 INTRODUCTION
  Law Commission Report (1994)
  Regulations Review Committee Report
    Law Commission Report: 2008
    Law Commission Report (1994)
    Regulations Review Committee Report
    Law Commission Report (2008)



Start writing your document by developing your headings (outline) and organising them according to your readers’ needs. This approach can also help you identify major groupings of information that you may want to emphasise with headings.


1  The following are some general guidelines about sentence, title, and capital cases:

  • Title case should be used mostly for titles (as the name suggests), very rarely for headings.

  • Capital case capitalises the first and last words and every “meaningful” word. It lower-cases structural words, eg, the, and, of, in.

  • Sentence case (capitalising first word only, other than proper nouns) is the default heading style in modern plain language.

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