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Headings serve to reveal the organisation of a text. They can help readers understand the organisational hierarchy of a text by indicating the coordination and subordination of its parts. It is not advisable to go beyond three levels in the numbering of headings (e.g. 2.3.2). If you need to include a fourth level heading, a common practice is to write that sub-heading in italics and use no numbers.

The most frequently encountered headings either state the main idea of the segment, or use a key word or phrase. Initial "The" is usually omitted in headings.

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Exercise 1

The following Table of Contents gives the headings of a Masters thesis. What do you think of it? What could be improved?














These headings for this thesis are not very effective.

The headings give the reader little or no idea of what the thesis is about. It is acceptable to have some structural headings, e.g. "Introduction" or "Conclusion", but generally the purpose of a heading is to be informative about the contents. There is also no numbering and no subheadings to give any detailed information. Note: Acknowledgements are conventionally placed at the beginning. Using capitals throughout also makes it more difficult to read.

The following Table of Contents gives the headings of a PhD thesis in Medicine. What do you think of it? What could be improved?



List of Abbreviations


1. Introduction

1.1 Content of Dissertation

1.2 Aims and Hypothesis of the Study

2. The Concept of OCD

2.1 Diagnosis, Classification and Formulation

2.2 The Development of the Disorder

2.3 Subtypes of OCD

[There are then 7 sub-types listed at the next level]

2.4 Other Possibilities

2.5 Discussion and Subclassification of OCD

3. Aspects of BiologicalNeurotransmitters and OCD

[There are then 6 sub-categories listed at this level]

4. Discussion of Methodological Considerations

4.1 The Ethics of Clinical Research in Psychosis

4.2 Approach to Psychopathological Analysis in this Study

4.3 Neuroendocrine Strategy in this Study

[There are then 6 sub-categories listed at the next level]

5. Results

5.1 Refusals to Consent

5.2 Comparison of Patients and Controls

5.3 Within Patient-Group Analysis

6. Discussion

6.1 Elaboration of Results

6.2 Possible Confounding Factors

6.3 Significance of the Results

7. Further Research

7.1 The Planned Study

8. Concluding Remarks




The headings for this thesis are more effective.

The headings give the reader a clear idea of the contents without going into overwhelming detail. As it is a medical thesis it needs to be specific, and you will note that the major headings largely follow the conventional scientific pattern. In a non-scientific thesis, you have more latitude to include informational headings.

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