Readability

Download a copy of the Accessibility and Writing for Content Editors training slides.

Headings

Sighted users benefit from websites that use visual headings to organize content. Visual headings allow for users to get a sense of the structure and organization of the page. Headings are typically larger than the surrounding text, and that visual hierarchy helps to guide the eye. Users with cognitive impairments or low vision particularly benefit from headings.

When headings are coded properly in a web page’s underlying code, screen reader users can also benefit from headings. Instead of listening to an entire page, screen reader users can have their screen reader read a list of the headings. Screen reader users can then skip to a particular heading and begin reading from that point.

In the underlying web page code, headings come in six ranks: <h1> through <h6>. Pages should use headings to arrange content hierarchically. Each page should have a single <h1> that acts as the page’s title and most important idea. Any sub-ideas should begin with an <h2>. If those sub-ideas themselves should be divided further, use <h3> headings, and so on. The headings should be descriptive and helpful.

Some further best practices for headings include:

  • Do not select heading levels based on their appearance. Rather, select heading levels based on their appropriate place in the hierarchcy.
  • Do not skip to a more specific heading level as needed (e.g. from <h2> to <h4>). Skipping from <h4> to <h2> is OK.
  • Do not create headings by using the bold button. Find out the proper way to implement headings in your website.
  • Do not over-use headings. Most simple pages only need <h2> headings, and the occasional <h3>.
  • Do plan your heading structure before you write your page.

See our headings best practice page for more a more in depth discussion of headings.

Reading level

When reading on a screen, users benefit from having text at a lower reading level. While not a requirement for accessibility, it is best to write at as low a reading level as is appropriate for your content. Doing so benefits people with cognitive impairments, people who do not speak English as a first language, and people who may be distracted while reading.

Some best practices for readability include:

  • writing at a high school grade level, where possible and appropriate
  • limiting paragraphs to around ~80 words
  • avoiding jargon and difficult language where possible
  • using authoring tools such as the Hemingway Editor to provide readability feedback

Text Formatting

Many websites provide content editors a great deal of freedom when formatting text on their websites. Content editors should be thoughtful when formatting text, as they can inadvertently undo the accessibility, visual design, and branding work that designers and developers have worked to achieve.

Some best practices for text formatting include:

  • never changing the font, font-size, or color of your text
  • using bold and italics for emphasis only, never for visual headings
  • never underlining or striking through text
  • keeping text left-aligned
  • using numbered and bulleted lists generously

Site owners should seek to limit formatting options that content authors have, if possible. 

Accessibility Resources: