Document Structure and Format

Estimated reading time: 2 min (434 words)

Document structure

  • Headings
    • Leveled headings improve readability for all and create a user navigational structure for those who rely on a screen reader. 
    • Create (and customize) in Word, Google Docs and Moodle.
    • Keep headings short (less than 20 words) and descriptive.
  • Bullets/numbered lists 
    • Enable quick visually scanning (or listening) of information. 
    • Prevent readers from being overwhelmed by blocks of text.
    • Add bullets or numbers from Word’s built-in list tools so screen readers recognize the structure. 

Document format

  • Color

    • Select contrasting colors for the foreground and background. White text on a black background is the highest contrast. Yellow on black is also a suitable selection. Avoid red-green combinations to allow for individuals who are color blind.
    • Be aware that hyperlinks change color when clicked and plan accordingly.
    • Do not use color alone to convey meaning.
  • Font

    • Select legible fonts. Sans-serif fonts tend to be more readable on screen. However, Calibri, Garamond, Georgia, Helvetica, PT Sans, PT Serif, and Verdana are all highly readable.
    • Use boldface to show emphasis.
  • Images

    • Add alt-text to describe what the image is intended to convey. For example, alt-text for the image below can be labeled ‘The Bryn Mawr College Athletics' mascot is a yellow and black owl in flight.’

The Bryn Mawr College athletics mascot is a yellow and black owl in flight.

  • If the image is purely decorative, description is not necessary but null alt-text should be entered to alert screen readers to skip the image.
  • Hyperlinks

  • Tables

    • Use simple table structure and specify header rows

    • Avoid using blank cells for formatting

    • Structure layout tables for easy navigation

  • Other considerations

    • Avoid using repeated blank characters, floating objects and/or watermarks
    • Include closed captions for any audio 

Special Consideration for PowerPoint Presentations

When creating a PowerPoint to be used in class, follow additional document formatting guidelines: 

  • Use simple, standard themes for your background and templates.
  • Give each slide a unique title.
  • Limit the amount of text on each slide.
  • Use simple table structure with a clearly labeled header row.
  • Use large, sans serif fonts.
  • Use strong color contrasts. A light background with dark text or dark background with light text is best. Make sure your slide is readable in grayscale.
  • Use font size, line thickness, graphics, and other visual cues in addition to color to convey ideas, trends, or themes. This will make your ideas more clear to those that are colorblind.
  • Verbally describe all graphics including tables, charts, and images during presentations.
  • Include alternative text for all images, drawings, charts, tables, diagrams, graphs and objects.
  • Include closed-captioning for videos.
  • Consider incorporating slide transitions that include sound. This allows audience members who are blind or visually impaired to know when you are moving to a new slide.

Additional resources


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Access Services
Eugenia Chase Guild Hall
Room 103 and 104
101 N. Merion Ave.
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania 19010
Fax: 610-526-7451