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6 Secrets to Effective Subheads

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

They're everywhere. You see subheads in magazine articles, direct mail, newspaper pieces … but maybe you never knew they had a name.

This Is What Subheads Look Like

They act like miniature headlines, introducing a new section of content.

But a word of caution: a few words set off in bold above a paragraph do not an effective sub head make. In fact, when tossed into a manuscript as an afterthought, one of these little headlines can actually weaken the piece.

What's the point in using them? To make it easier for your reader to keep reading your piece. Follow these guidelines to give your sub heads zing and help your reader keep reading until the end.

1. Use Details

6 secrets to effective subheads for content writers, freelancers with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter. #WritingTips #ContentWriting

Use your headings to offer substantive content. Whenever possible, use details. Consider the contrast between …

“Vaccuum cleaners”
and …
“78.7 % of all homeowners use one”

Both can appear over the same section of content. But the second version narrows the slant of the content to follow (the widespread use of vacuum cleaners) and is more likely to keep your copy focused.

Writing Tip: steer clear of generalities. Entice the reader with interesting specifics – an unusual fact, idea or statement.

2. Use Them as an Outline

Readers like to skim, especially on the web. Good headings summarize your article or letter.

Writing Tip: read through your mini-headers consecutively, omitting the content in between. The sequence should communicate the gist of your piece.

3. Use Different Constructions

Try active verbs, word pictures, questions and descriptive language as formats. These create interest and lure the reader into the copy body.

Writing Tip: avoid “be” verbs.

4. Use Them to Create White Space

Headers break up your content - a good thing, because readers are subconsciously overwhelmed when they’re faced with an entire page of unbroken prose. Headings give the eye relief.

Writing Tip: a good rule of thumb for double-spaced manuscripts is 1-2 sub heads per page.

5. Use Them to Guide the Reader

A series of mini-headlines announces the next topic and leads the reader through the content. Write good headings and you'll guide your reader.

Writing Tip: use the sentence before the heading as a transition.

6. Use Them to Show a Benefit

Use these little titles to show the reader a specific advantage for her - an advantage she wants to read about in the content that follows. For instance ...

“Change of direction”
“Interactive picture books signal a profitable change of direction”

The first could mean a medical discovery, a late-in-life marriage or a job change – and doesn’t address the pluses of changing direction.

But the second versions suggests that a publishing house has found an ingenious way to capture the preschool market – one that the reader most definitely will want to learn more about.

Writing Tip: re-read your subheads to make sure they communicate a particular advantage, plus, fact, outcome or benefit that interests your reader.

More Basic Copywriting Elements

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