A side heading, also known as a subheading, is an organizational tool that helps you segment content in a way that makes it easy for the reader to follow. Often used in academic work, side headings can also be used in business letters to structure content in an engaging way.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Side headings are used to inform readers about what kind of information they will find in the section that follows.
Purpose of Subheadings
The content under a heading can be further organized into subheadings and side headings. For example, if a content heading is “Scheduling,” subheadings under that heading may include “Checking Your Shifts,” “Marking Your Availability” and “Trading Shifts With Colleagues.” All of the subheadings are directly related to the main heading of “Scheduling.”
When writing lengthy content in particular, side headings help the reader to quickly glance at the content sections in which he is interested without having to read details from other sections. If you’re writing a business letter that is longer than a few paragraphs, you can use side headings to make it more accessible and user friendly. That way, the reader will know what kind of content he will find within your letter at a glance.
Uses for Side Headings in Business Letters
There are many instances where you may need to write a letter that includes subheadings. These letters may include information on:
- Benefits and features your business offers to customers.
- Procedural changes for employees.
- Terms and conditions for business partners.
- Sales, profit and revenue updates for investors and stakeholders.
- Special offers for prospects.
Align Side Headings to the Left
Side headings are generally aligned to the left side of the page. In academic writing, they are sometimes included in their own column on the left side of the page, while the content is included in a column to the right of the heading. In letters, however, you can write the paragraph directly below the side heading.
In formal letter writing, block style indicates that all content be aligned to the left side of the page. Instead of indenting your paragraphs under the side heading, you can leave a line space and then begin your paragraph directly from the left-side alignment.
In some cases, you may want to change the formatting of the side heading so that it stands out visually. In this case, you can either underline, bold or italicize the headings depending on the formatting of the rest of your letter.
Use Descriptive and Actionable Language
The purpose of paragraph headings is to help the reader understand what is contained within the content. As a result, it’s important to make sure that your letter side headings are descriptive and eloquent.
If you’re writing a side heading for an important policy change within your organization, use a clear side heading such as “Changes to Dress Code Policy for All Employees.” Don’t use a vague heading such as “Read This” or “Important Information.” Headings that are too generic don’t tell the reader what the content is about, and as a result, your audience may not read the content under the heading.
If your letter is instructional and tells the reader what steps to take to complete a specific business action, it’s useful to start each heading with a verb. This makes the heading actionable. When the reader is reviewing the letter, following the headings tells her how to do the job, while the paragraphs offer more details. For example, if you’re sending a letter to customers and prospects about a new sales promotion, your side headings can be “Head to the Store,” “Pick Out Your Favorite Products” and “Save $25 on Your Goodies.”
Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.