Information Services Division



This page contains information on creating word processed documents and PDF documents.

Creating word processed documents

Following the recommendations below will make your documents more readable for everyone and particularly people with dyslexia and will make it easier for screen readers to make sense of your document.  The following guidance has been written for Microsoft Word, but the principles apply to any word processed document. 

The UCL Office 365 Accessibility portal provides information on the accessibility tools available in Outlook, Teams, SharePoint, Word, Excel and PowerPoint and includes links to accessible templates.

Digital Skills Development offer a Creating accessible Word documents training course.

Structure and layout

In general, it is advisable to use the in-built tools to layout your text rather than using the Enter key and Tab keys.

  • Use the in-built Styles feature in Word (Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2 etc.) to create a logical structure.
  • Use a Table of Contents based on the headings, particularly for longer, more complex documents
  • Add Page Numbering and put these in the same place on each page.
  • Bulleted or numbered lists help to break up text and make it more visual
  • Use the Columns feature in Word rather than using spaces or tabs to create columns.

If using Tables, use table headings and keep them simple (don't create merged cells or nested tables). Add alternative text to your table.  Don't use tables to structure the content of your page. Use of bulleted or numbered lists can be more accessible alternatives to tables.

Alignment and spacing

As with page layout, it is advisable to use the in-built tools to set out your text rather than using the Enter key and Tab keys.

  • Use Left alignment rather than Justified text. This ensures the spacing between words is even.
  • Use double or 1.5 spacing between lines and leave at least one line space between paragraphs.
  • Use the Paragraph Formatting feature to create space below and between paragraphs (rather than pressing Return twice).

Fonts and formatting

Font size 12 is recommended and certainly not smaller than size 11. Choose a ‘sans serif’ font which is easier for most people to read. The following fonts are recommended:

  • Arial (not Arial Narrow)
  • Verdana
  • Calibri
  • Universe
  • Helvetica

Use Bold to emphasise items and avoid italics and underlining.

Avoid using capitals for more than one or two words.

Use of colour

  • Ensure there is sufficient contrast between the font colour and the background colour. You can use WebAIM’s colour contrast checker.
  • Backgrounds should always be plain.
  • Do not use colour or spatial position as the ONLY way to convey content or meaning.
  • See the Visuals and use of colour page for more details on using colour in your content.

Images and other visual content

  • Use alternative text for tables, charts, figures, images etc.
  • See the Images and other visuals page for more details on using images in your content.


Use descriptive words for hyperlinks rather than actually displaying the web address or a generic 'Click here' or similar. For example: 'Visit the Accessibility fundamentals page for more details about descriptive hyperlinks.'

Printing and sharing

  • Use uncoated, matt paper to avoid glare and ensure that it is thick enough so that print from one side doesn’t show through to the other. 90 gsm or more is recommended.
  • If you are providing an electronic copy of your document, make sure they can be edited so that people can adapt them to meet their needs (e.g. change the colours).

Writing style and content

The way that you write will depend on your audience but it is generally desirable to:

  • Use the active not passive voice
    e.g. 'The student was writing the essay.' is preferable to 'The essay was being written by the student.'
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short.
  • Avoid double negatives.
  • Avoid abbreviations and provide the expanded form at least once at the beginning of the document.
  • Use images to support text.

Further guidance can be found on the Web Accessibility Initiative page on Writing for Web Accessibility.

Creating PDFs

Scanned PDFs

A scanned PDF will usually be an image and may therefore not be readable to screen readers. You can however use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to convert a scanned image to readable text. UCL's Sensus Access service will automatically convert an image only PDF, image file or PowerPoint into a more accessible format (text, e-book or digital Braille).

Converting to PDF

It is best, wherever possible, to publish information in HTML format. The Government Digital Service blog explains why you shouldn't use PDFs but should use HTML instead

If you have an original Word or PowerPoint file to share it is advisable to include the original format alongside any converted PDF versions. If you do need to create a PDF you can follow some simple steps to make it as accessible as possible.  Most recent versions of Office will allow you to easily convert Word or PowerPoint files by saving them as PDFs. When creating PDFs in this way:

  • ensure that you have formatted your file correctly using heading styles, alt text and descriptive hyperlinks;
  • Select the Document structure tags for accessibility checkbox and then select OK.

Further guidance on PDF creation

Check for accessibility

  • The Accessibility Checker in Word will find basic accessibility issues with your document.
  • Anthology (Blackboard) Ally provides basic guidance on the accessibility of document formats in Moodle and includes options for creating alternative formats.

Find out more

Back to creating accessible content