5

I've often see technical documents created in Microsoft Word which use the Header styles with Header 1 sections as 1. Section Title, Header 2 as 1.1. Subsection Title, Header 3 as 1.1.1. Subsubsection Title, etc. I find this very useful for document navigation.

Occasionally I've seen documents with this same convention, but subsections are indented (both header and text). The deeper the nesting, the further the indentation. (e.g. Level 2 indent 0.5", Level 3 indent 1.0", etc.)

Are there any conventions regarding such indentation? Are there any style guides which say whether it's a good idea and why?

  • 1
    It's a good idea design-wise as the indents make it easier to notice where the headlines are in the text. As for conventions, maybe try to get in contact with people who submit scientific articles and similar. Universities and scientific journals often have very strict and precise style guides for such docs. – HaraldCFS Aug 24 '16 at 18:28
  • If anyone can think of a better place to ask this, please let me know. – cp.engr Aug 24 '16 at 19:47
  • I think context is crucial here. Most publishers will have some sort of style guide/house rules on this. If it is for self-publication, then worth looking for a model publication in the same sector and intended readership. If it's in an academic context, again there are often standards which will serve as a guide. So a bit more context on the intended final product/market/context/readership would help a lot! | And can we assume you know about Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style? – Dɑvïd Aug 24 '16 at 21:34
1

I am generally not in favour of the idea that lower-level headings should be progressively indented. (But publishers are entitled to set their own styles and you should follow them.)

In my opinion, you should create headings that are distinguished by 'type style and placement' (cf. Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed, §.1.54). I'd add: but the lower the level of heading, the less distinguishable it should be from the main text. That is, sectional headings should be designed hierarchically -- say, chapter-level headings in a larger and different and bold font and centred on the line; section-level headings in a bold font and centred; subsection-headings in italics; etc. To me, this means I'm more inclined to have low-level headings flush left than higher level ones (e.g., I will centre a chapter heading and not a subsection heading, but I probably wouldn't do the reverse).

The numbering is useful to denote hierarchy, but, strictly speaking, it is only really adding value if you are going to refer to different (sub-)sections (e.g., see section 1.5.3, above). Otherwise, some tasteful, careful, and subtle design choices will do just the trick and readers are likely to implicitly pick up on it.

Generally speaking, for sober documents where numbered sections are useful and common, a 'less is more' approach to typesetting and typography is often best.

  • The numbering is useful to denote hierarchy, but, strictly speaking, it is only really adding value if you are going to refer to different (sub-)sections... I often do. It is technical documentation. – cp.engr Sep 15 '16 at 14:53
  • I am generally not in favour of the idea that lower-level headings should be progressively indented. Why? – cp.engr Sep 15 '16 at 14:53
  • @cp-engr -- Re comment #1: yeah, I have no issue with numbering per se, just pointing out that numbering is sometimes used where it is not really adding value beyond what heading-formatting should already do. Re comment #2: my view is that the 'deeper' the level of the heading (e.g., subsubsection vs section), the closer to 'body text' a heading should look; thus, (sub-)subsections are more likely in my documents to be flush left than sections. I move from the centre 'in' to the left margin, not from the left margin 'out' to the centre. – jon Sep 15 '16 at 15:16
  • ... but that's a personal preference. The more serious sin is for lower section headings to have more 'formatting' than higher section headings. It is wrong for sections to be in bold while subsections are in _bold italics and underlined_. That's (IMO) visually at odds with the logical hierarchy of the document --- regardless of whether you do the progressive indenting you refer to or not. – jon Sep 15 '16 at 15:18
  • 1
    Bear in mind that technical documentation has also numbers not for internal reference in the document but also because its externally referred to, a bit like legal text. So its extremely important that the support person or colleague can say yeah its explained in detail in section 2.3.5.4 over the phone, or even specified in contract. So even if it may seem redundant in the text itself it may be of value. – joojaa Oct 27 '16 at 7:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.