Manuscript Preparation, Copyediting, and Proofreading

Q. A company I work for advocates two levels of headings in most reports/articles: a stand-alone boldface head (an A head) and a boldface run-in head (a C head). The style guide says that when an extra head is needed, a B head (stand-alone small caps) should be employed between the A and C heads. Some editors believe that when the B head is needed, it can be used in only some sections of a report/article, arguing that the B heads are an intermediary organizational structure that can be useful in a particularly complex section, but this does not mean that they are required—or even appropriate—in sections with simpler construction. By this logic, some sections within a report/article would have an A-B-C heading structure and other sections within that same report/article would have an A-C heading structure. Other editors think that once the B head is used, all secondary-level headings in that report should be B heads. What do you advise?

A. Both ways of thinking have merit, so the actual content of the document should drive the decision. The default arrangement is not to skip a level, but sometimes the content makes a convincing case for skipping. Especially in cases where a report has a certain kind of information that appears repeatedly—let’s say, lists of tips—it’s helpful to the reader if headings for that kind of information look the same throughout. To put tip lists under run-in heads in one section and stand-alone heads in another obscures their sameness and doesn’t help the reader recognize or locate them.