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.
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, keep them simple and use column headings rather than row headings. Add alternative text to your table. Don't use tables to structure the content of your page.
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)
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. For example, black font on a pale background is a good contrast.
- Backgrounds should always be plain.
- Do not use color 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.
A scanned PDF will usually be an image and will 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 form (text, e-book or digital Braille).
Converting to PDF
It is best, wherever possible, to share the original Word or PowerPoint file or to share content on a web page, rather than to use a PDF. The Government Digital Service blog a great explainer on why you shouldn't use PDFs but should use HTML instead. If you do need to create a PDF you can follow some simple steps to make sure it is 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 option to tag these elements for accessibility;
- don’t use the Print to PDF option, use Save As or Export to create your PDF;
To check if your PDF is accessible you can go to the European Internet Inclusion Initiative page and upload your document.
Further guidance on PDF creation
- Microsoft has a page on how to Create accessible PDFs in Office. They have also created a number of PDF Accessibility Training YouTube tutorials.
(Note for Mac users: To save PowerPoint presentations as accessible PDFs, we recommend you use Office 365 in your browser, as Office for Mac does not allow for PowerPoint files to be saved as accessible PDFs).
- Birkbeck for All's Accessible PDFs tutorial is a useful resource.
Check for accessibility
The Accessibility Checker in Word will find any issues with your document.
Find out more
- The WebAIM site has a good section on Creating Accessible Documents Microsoft has a step-by-step guide to Make your Word documents accessible to people with disabilities.
- Digital Skills Development offer a Creating accessible Word documents course.
- Take this LinkedIn Learning course on Creating accessible documents in Office.
- UCL’s Moodle course Accessible Teaching Practices: Providing Access to All using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides more detailed guidance on how to create accessible documents.
- A useful blog post with information about LaTeX and accessibility.