Using headings correctly

Headings serve as sign posts

Users scan headings to evaluate quickly your content's relevance against their needs.

Search engines use headings to rank your content.

Never choose the heading to use by its font appearance

Apply headings to reflect the semantic structure of your content.  

The structure is critical for assistive technology users who rely on properly correctly applied headings to understand and navigate web pages and documents.

You may already know how headings work in Microsoft Word: by applying headings correctly, Word can automatically generate a Table of Contents, saving you the trouble of having to manually create one. When writing for the Web, you apply headings in a similar way; arrange headings in decreasing levels of importance:

  • Primary heading (H1) - use only once per page. This top-level heading is reserved for the page title, and UOW's web publishing system is already configured to support this.
  • Secondary headings (H2) - these are sub-headings that you can use more than once.
  • Minor headings (H3 and lower) - H3 is a sub-sub-heading, H4 is a sub-sub-sub-heading, H5 is a sub-sub-sub-sub-heading, and H6 is a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-heading. For most purposes, we recommend not going beyond H3 level. If you need to use more than three levels of headings to organise your copy, it's probably too complex and needs rewriting.
  • Don't skip heading levels. H1 is always followed by H2 which is followed by H3. If you mix up the order of the headings, the logical structure of your content will be lost, and this will cause problems for users and for search engines.

    Wrong way:
    Heading level 1
    Heading level 3
    Heading level 4

    Correct way:
    Heading level 1
    Heading level 2
    Heading level 3

    Nesting of headings - headings may be nested as sub-sections to reflect the organisation and hierarchy of the content of the page:

H1 Continental Europe

H2 Germany

H3 German history

H3 German language and culture

H2 France

H3 French history

H3 French language and culture

H4 French dialects

H3 Geography of France

H2 Belgium

H3 Belgian language and culture

H4 Belgian comics

Write concise, descriptive headings

Use less than eight words. Use words your users will easily recognise and terms your audience will search on.

Use sentence case

The current UOW Editorial Style requires all headings to be in sentence case. This means an initial capital and then all lowercase, except when writing proper nouns. Example: write "Contact us", not "Contact Us".

External resources