Choosing Your Section Headings

I’ve had a couple of interesting Twitter conversations recently about how to write a book. I’m enjoying sharing my thoughts on the book writing process (plus it gives me an excuse to procrastinate writing my next one) so please ask any questions you’d like to know about and I’ll respond in a post. 

Your section headings are very important for several reasons.

  1. They break up the book into chunks, making it easier for your readers to navigate.
  2. They help you to stay on track while you’re writing, and not veer off on wild tangents.
  3. When you’re pitching a book to a publisher, they demonstrate that you’ve thought it through.
  4. Once your book’s been published, they might be listed on the sales page, helping potential readers to see what they can expect from it.

So, how do you decide what your section headings should be?

Hopefully you already have the theme of your book in mind. For my book, the theme was given to me, and it was Windows Forensics Cookbook. Some of the section headings were also defined by the publisher when they asked me to write it, but others were ones Oleg & I suggested.

Our section headings were:

  • Digital Forensics And Evidence Acquisition
  • Windows Memory Acquisition And Analysis
  • Windows Drive Acquisition
  • Windows File System Analysis
  • Windows Shadow Copies Analysis
  • Windows Registry Analysis
  • Main Windows System Artifacts
  • Web Browser Forensics
  • Email And Instant Messaging Forensics
  • Windows 10 Forensics
  • Data Visualisation
  • Troubleshooting In Windows Forensic Analysis

If you’re not a digital forensics person, you probably looked at that list and thought “god, how dry and boring” and you’d be right. But it’s a technical manual, so they’re sort of supposed to be like that. Plus I spiced it up a bit by hiding some pop song lyrics in some of the sections.

How did we choose the sections?

  1. Have an intro chapter. This might be called ‘Introduction’, or it might have a full title, like ours which was called ‘Digital Forensics And Evidence Acquisition’. The purpose of this chapter is to give people an overview of the book’s subject area and ease them gently into the text.
  2. Work out if there are any main subdivisions first. By this I mean not areas that are niche enough to be covered in a single section, but chunks into which your subject area can be broken down. Windows forensics, for example, can roughly be broken down into acquiring evidence; analysing the evidence that’s part of the OS; analysing the evidence that can be gleaned from third-party apps and programs; the recent Windows OS overhaul that is Windows 10; reporting back to your clients; and troubleshooting when things go wrong.
  3. Once you’ve got those subdivisions, think about how to split them further. Some of the main programs people run on Windows machines are web browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Safari; or email and IM clients like Outlook and Skype. We set up sections for each of these. Data visualisation is one of the main bugbears when running reports in digital forensics, so we decided the reporting chapter would largely focus on that.

And that, in short, is how to pick your section headings. Now all you need to do is work out a clear idea of what’s going in each one, and then flesh it out a bit, pitch it to a publisher, and write your book.

What would be helpful for you to know about my writing process? Let me know in the comments!


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