The Tweed Philosophy on Subheads

Section headings, a.k.a. subheads, can be powerful tools for the academic writer. Without them, chapters in scholarly books and journal articles would be huge, undifferentiated blocks of text. Subheads can announce topics, they can transition for us, they can display wit, and they can scaffold. Perhaps that’s why it’s tempting to rely on them a bit too much. As an editor, I have seen pitch-perfect subheads, but I have also seen them overused and haphazardly phrased. (I sometimes wonder whether ineffective subheads are left over from much earlier drafts and are simply out of place in the revised material.) Clearly, subheads can be powerful, and they can strengthen already strong manuscripts. They can’t, however, make up for deficiencies in argumentation. So to use subheads well, we must implement them judiciously and conscientiously. So how do we strike that balance—employing subheads strategically without basing too much of our organizational strategy on them? Let’s start with The Chicago Manual of Style‘s take: 1.53 Subheads—general principles Subheads within a chapter should be short and meaningful and, like chapter titles, parallel in structure and tone. It is rarely imperative that a subhead begin a new page. The first sentence of text following a subhead should not refer syntactically to the subhead; words should be repeated where necessary. For example: SECONDARY SPONGIOSA The secondary spongiosa, a vaulted structure. . . not SECONDARY SPONGIOSA This vaulted structure . . . So subheads should be brief, informative, and parallel in structure. And running text should not immediately refer to them. I would take this advisement a bit further: the first part of a section following a subhead should act as if the subhead...