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People tend not to think about how their formatting choices in email affect accessibility but it's worth reviewing the way your email client is set up.

Following the recommendations below will make your emails more readable for everyone and particularly people with dyslexia and will make it easier for screen readers to make sense of your document.

Structure and layout

  • Bulleted or numbered lists help to break up text and make it more visual
  • If using Tables, keep them simple and use column headings rather than row headings.  Add alternative text to your table.

Alignment and spacing

Use Left alignment rather than Justified text.  This ensures the spacing between words is even.

Fonts and formatting

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.

Queen’s University has some useful information on formatting in their guidance on creating accessible emails in Outlook.

Contrast and text colour

  • Ensure there is sufficient contrast between the font colour and the background colour. For example, black font on a cream or yellow 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.  Further guidance is provided by the University of Virginia.

Images and other visual content

  • Use alternative text for tables, charts, figures, images etc.
  • See the Visuals and use of colour page for more details on using images in your content.

Hyperlinks

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.'

Writing style

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

  • use the active not passive voice
  • keep sentences and paragraphs short
  • avoid double negatives
  • avoid abbreviations and provide the expanded form at least once at the beginning
  • use images to support text

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

Signature

  • List a contact address and phone number as well as return email address. This enables users to contact you using their preferred method, or to tell you that your email is not accessible.
  • Always state clearly who the email is from.

Check for accessibility

The Accessibility Checker in Outlook will find any issues with your email.  

Find out more

Microsoft has a step-by-step guide to Make your Outlook email accessible to people with disabilities.