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I stumbled across the question on Writing Beta about "How do you write a stack exchange answer?". The best answer says use headings. What would the headings be for? The main idea/topic of each paragraph or of each "section"? Or would it be the summary of what you are about to explain? Could it be either?

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Introduction

You asked:

What would the headings be for? The main idea/topic of each paragraph or of each "section"?

My answer here is going to attempt to show how headings are used and uses headings to demonstrate.

Sections

All well structured pieces of writing will contain sections. Many essays etc. will contain an introduction just like this answer. If there is one, that would be the first section.

A heading will generally be provided to head the introduction, and a heading will then follow the introduction to show that the introduction has ended and the next section has started. This way, if you wish to re-read a particular section you can easily pick that section out.

Headings and Sub-headings

Headings

You would provide a heading for your section, and the section can cover many different aspects of what you are talking about. If it helps, you may wish to split the section into parts and this is where sub-headings come in.

Sub-Headings

Sub-headings provide a split point for each part of a large section, making navigation even easier whilst also providing flow and even context within the writing.

Heading Markup

Within StackExchange you can use 2 methods. You can either use HTML markup or you can use hashes.

HTML Markup

Those familiar with this method can use <h1></h1>, <h2></h2>... throughout the text when structuring for posting. This can be cumbersome when typing a quick answer on a smartphone for example so you may choose to use the hashes.

Hashes

You can use a single # to create a h1 (main) header, with more hashes for sub-headers such as ## for h2 or ### for h3.

Concluding summary

So you see that headings are there to split your writing into sections, giving your sections a name, whilst providing a means to navigate through the text to find any specific relevant part.

Further reading

You can read more about the use of headings and sub-headings by going to https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/headings-subheadings

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There are two reasons why it is necessary to visually structure text on the internet.

  1. Attention span on the internet is extremely brief. If readers cannot immediately see what your text is going to tell them, they'll leave.

    Therefore you need brief summaries of the whole text (often labeled tl;dr "too long, didn't read" – the literal meaning of which should tell you something important).

  2. Screen sizes are small compared to printed matter and the fact that you can only see one small part of a text at a time makes it difficult to orient yourself within the text.

    Therefore you need markers (like headings, bold phrases, lists, blockquotes) that show you where you are.

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