List of access keys

4.6 Headings: Have a clear and consistent hierarchy

See 4.6 of the Checklist »

Note, the text on this page applies mainly to printed material. The examples don’t always translate fully to online presentation.

Clear and consistent heading levels

Readers navigate documents better when the document has clear and consistent heading levels. A good heading structure allows the reader to drill down into a subject. The headings work well together when readers can spot the relationship between the headings (see 4.3 of the Checklist).

Example 1
tick.gif Licences and fees
4 Fish and Game Councils may issue licences
5 Day licence
6 Whole-season licence
7 Game bird habitat stamp fee
8 Fees inclusive of GST

Heading hierarchy in legislation

Creating a clear and transparent structure is a key drafting principle. That structure is revealed through the headings, which serve as a navigational guide to the arrangement of an Act or secondary legislation as a whole.

From the table of contents, you need to give the reader a sense of 3 aspects of the law:

  • scope: what subject matter is covered and the relative importance of various topics
  • narrative flow: the flow of the “story” told by the law from provision to provision
  • organisation and logic: relationships between topics indicated by nesting provisions within Parts and subparts, and cross-headings, etc.

Provision headings

Ideally, provision headings need to reflect both the provision content and the provision’s relationship to the whole document. You will need to balance these competing aims.

In the following example, the most important provision for the user is placed first (at section 10) indicating why the reader may (or may not) need a fishing licence. If the reader discovers that they don’t need a fishing licence, they don’t have to read further.

Example 2
tick.gif Part 2

Fishing licences

10 When fishing licence is required
11 Eligibility for fishing licence
12 Application for fishing licence
13 Grant of fishing licence
14 Fishing licence conditions
15 Breach of fishing licence conditions

Context

Online access has changed the way readers view legislation. As the writer, you have no control over what part of your document a reader will start from. They may follow a link from another piece of legislation to a particular provision or to a particular Part. This means that the reader is most likely to see only the immediate context—the provision heading and perhaps a Part or cross-heading above it. This means that you need to make the headings context-specific and avoid using the same heading elsewhere in the legislation (ie, make each provision heading unique in that document).

Generic headings

Generally, avoid generic headings like Powers, Establishment, and Offences (especially if they are duplicated elsewhere).

Remember that online readers may only see Part headings when they view the provision that follows one. In Example 2 above, the provision headings refer to fishing licences, not just any licences. These headings help distinguish the provisions from those in another Part dealing with, for example, trawling licences, and avoid duplication.

Divided provision headings

Some jurisdictions use a division within provision headings as a technique for grouping linked headings. You should generally avoid this technique because it has significant disadvantages. It is better to group provisions under, eg, a subpart heading or a cross-heading.

Example 3
cross.gif Part 5

Registrar of Personal Properties Securities

193 Guide to this Part
194 Registrar: establishment of office
195 Registrar: functions and powers
196 Registrar: termination
197 Deputy Registrar: establishment of office
198 Deputy Registrar: functions and powers
199 Deputy Registrar: termination

The disadvantages of divided headings include the following:

  • considerable repetition, which may annoy readers
  • it is difficult to keep the headings brief
  • the technique runs counter to the principle of placing key words early in the heading (front-loading). See 4.1 of the Checklist.

Writing effective headings in other documents

In most documents, headings are about selective navigation. They allow readers to find the information they are interested in quickly and easily. They summarise or introduce the upcoming information. (There is also the ‘teaser’ heading, designed to pique readers’ interest—more for creative uses such as blogs and newsletter items.)

Key principles

Some key principles of writing effective headings:

  • keep them short
  • use mostly meaningful words (ie, keep structural words (atheofbyinand) to a minimum
  • avoid punctuation
  • don’t just repeat the initial words of the following paragraph
  • use short functional words in subheadings only (examples in this document are Title case, Underlining, Bold or italic)
  • flesh out full headings with more information (an example in this document is Writing effective headings in other documents.

Heading format in other documents

You can use the heading’s size, typeface (Times New Roman, Calibri, etc), and font style and weight (bold or italic) to convey information to the reader about the hierarchy in a document. The larger the heading, the more information the document is likely to cover on that topic. If the format is chosen well and used consistently, it will help reinforce the structure and help the reader to navigate the document.

Placement

In non-legislation documents, headings are not only about navigation. They can also be a useful way of providing a visual break from large expanses of body text. So where you place your headings on the page is important, especially in printed or printable documents.

Key principles

Some key principles of where to place headings:

  • insert a heading or subheading at least every 4 paragraphs

  • avoid placing a heading too close to the bottom of a page—it gets lost

  • keep headings to a single line, except in a narrow column

  • take care not to confuse a list stem (like ‘Some key principles of where to place headings’ above) with headings.

Be flexible—obviously headings should reflect the structure of content where possible, but sometimes the visual-break heading needs to override this.

Headings: All capital letters

Using all capitals in a heading is fine for very short headings like “NOTE” or “CAUTION” or “EXAMPLE”. If the heading is longer, all capitals are not easy to read, so avoid them:

Example 4
cross.gif STRATEGIC OBJECTIVE 1: DRAFTING AMENDMENTS FOR SELECT COMMITTEES AND COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE HOUSE
tick.gif Strategic objective 1: Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House

Headings: Title case

This Is Title Case

Title case is used for the titles of books, plays, films, etc, and uses a capital letter for all the ‘important words’ (ie, no capitals for a, an, the, and, but, if, or, by, etc).

This is sentence case

Sentence case means you use capitals as you would when writing a sentence (eg, a capital letter for the start of the first word).

Titles and headings have different functions, and your choice of capitals or no capitals needs to reflect this.

A title names a whole document so heads the hierarchy.

Headings and subheadings indicate sections or subsections, and are lower down the hierarchy.

As a rule, use ‘title case’ for titles and ‘sentence case’ for headings. Note, you will sometimes see headings in title case. This is now an archaic convention—sentence casing is the plain language way.

Example 5
cross.gif Strategic Objective 1: Drafting Amendments for Select Committees and Committee of the Whole House
tick.gif Strategic objective 1: Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House

Headings: Underlining

Avoid underlining text as it makes the text harder to read (particularly on screen), and is likely to be mistaken for a link:

Example 6
cross.gif Strategic objective 1: Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House
tick.gif Strategic objective 1: Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House

Headings: Bold or italic

See also 3.8 of the Checklist

It is easier to read bold headings than italic headings, especially online. Bold also stands out better on the page. The choice is bold or italic—not both, and bold is preferable. But, even then it’s an option not a requirement. Non-bold headings work too (but only if differentiated from the paragraph text in some other way such as in another colour or in a different font).

Example 7
cross.gif Strategic objective 1: Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House
tick.gif Strategic objective 1: Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House
tick.gif Strategic objective 1: Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House
tick.gif Strategic objective 1: Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House

Headings: Point size

Increasing the point size of the heading is another option—but just a little. Use the smallest increment necessary to make a visible difference. If your text is 12 point, you don’t need to go up to 14 or 15 point. Try a smaller increase like 13 point (depending on the type face):

Example 8
cross.gif

Strategic objective 1: Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House

Legislation is scrutinised extensively in parliamentary select committees. With the exception of Appropriation and Imprest Supply Bills, and Bills introduced and …

tick.gif
Strategic objective 1: Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House

Legislation is scrutinised extensively in parliamentary select committees. With the exception of Appropriation and Imprest Supply Bills, and Bills introduced and …

TIP

If you have a bold heading, you can try reducing the point size by a half or a full point. If your font has a relatively heavy bold style (like Times New Roman), reducing the size can create a subtler emphasis.

Headings: Indenting

Only use 2 levels of indenting, even if you use more than 2 levels of headings. Once a heading is no longer anchored to something on the left edge of the page, it’s just floating in space. Indenting also results in shorter line length, which will make paragraphs under an indented heading longer:

Example 9
cross.gif

Strategic objective 1

Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House
Select committees

Legislation is scrutinised extensively in parliamentary select committees. With the exception of Appropriation and Imprest Supply Bills, and Bills introduced and …

Committee of the whole

Select committee consideration of Bills can occupy many months. The Bills may be extensively amended to take account of changes recommended by select committees following from the public submission …

tick.gif

Strategic objective 1

Drafting amendments for select committees and committee of the whole House
Select committees

Legislation is scrutinised extensively in parliamentary select committees. With the exception of Appropriation and Imprest Supply Bills, and Bills introduced and …

Committee of the whole

Select committee consideration of Bills can occupy many months. The Bills may be extensively amended to take account of changes recommended by select committees following from the public submission …

Headings: Spacing

A good way to emphasise a heading is by putting space above and below it, because it is both subtle and effective. But not too much. It must be seen to belong to the text that follows it and not float in mid-page. Remember to add more space above a heading than below it:

Example 10
cross.gif
Drafting amendments for select committees

Legislation is scrutinised extensively in parliamentary select committees. With the exception of Appropriation and Imprest Supply Bills, and Bills introduced and …

tick.gif
Drafting amendments for select committees

Legislation is scrutinised extensively in parliamentary select committees. With the exception of Appropriation and Imprest Supply Bills, and Bills introduced and …

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