Write easy-to-scan brochures, articles, websites and more

In last month’s articles, Win Over More Readers with Better Headlines, we talked about grabbing your readers’ attention in about one second. Now let’s keep their attention with scanable subheads.

Subheads are just as important as your main headline

Eight out of ten readers merely scan the largest type in the document before deciding whether to read the details. That’s okay. Few people have time to read everything. So make the parts they will read count.

Construct your subheads like this:

  • Make it meaningful to your reader; what’s in it for him/her? (Review our March article in the 422 Business Advisor to learn more.)
  • Turn negative words like “avoid” or “don’t” into positive phrases. “You can” statements also work well. Begin with a verb if you want the reader to perform an action.
  • Put the most important (key) words as close to the front as possible.
  • Use complete sentences. Ending punctuation and capitalization are optional.
  • Limit word count to 15. Fewer is better.

Keep subheads meaningful enough for the reader to scan through them

Product names and “important information” do not make good subheads because they don’t tell the reader anything. State the benefit of the product instead of naming it. Say what’s so important instead of using “important information” or “note” as your subhead.

You can insert a new subhead every time you add a new thought or concept

In fact, it’s easier to draft your document before attempting to write your headlines and subheads. The process of drafting the subheads (or mini summaries) can help you edit the overall document. You’ll be able to see how to improve the flow of content, and where you’ve inserted too much information or gone off on an unnecessary tangent.

Tip: The first sentence of the new paragraph or thought often makes a great subhead. If it works, just pull it out, edit as needed and bold it. Do NOT repeat it in the body copy.

Let your headline, subheads and callouts tell the complete story

Your subheads should serve two purposes: 

  1. Each subhead summarizes an important thought. 
  2. Subheads work with the headline and callouts to summarize the document as a whole.

Tip: When you’re done, make a second copy of your draft so you can try this. Delete all the body copy and leave only the headlines, subheads and callouts. When you read them from top to bottom, the headlines should flow like a summary of the entire document. That’s how most people will read them.

Jeanette Juryea is President of QubComm, your Corporate Communications Department in the virtual Qubicle next door. Send an email to Jeanette@qubcomm.com for professional writing, editing and design services from award-winning writers. You can also ask about writer training, brand/style guide development, existing communications analysis and more.