Use heading styles in Word to make your documents more accessible
Heading styles allow you to format the text of headings and sub-headings in a document to make it easier to navigate. Often headings have larger or bolder text or colours to make them stand out. But it’s important when creating headings in Word that you apply ‘heading styles’ rather than simply formatting the normal text to look like a heading.
Why use heading styles?
Screen readers allow people who have difficulty seeing or reading to access digital documents and websites by listening to the text. Screen reading software uses Word’s heading styles to identify the different sections of the document and give the user the option to go straight to a particular section rather than listen to the whole document. If a document has been created without heading styles, the screen reader won’t know where each section starts and ends.
Ensuring that Word documents use heading styles is one way that we can meet our legal requirements on accessibility, as well as adhering to Universal Design for Learning principles.
- When using heading styles you can instantly create a table of contents within your document.
- If you want to change how your headings look, you can make the change once and it will be applied to your other headings.
- You can easily convert a Word document into PowerPoint slides if you have used heading styles.
How to use the built-in heading styles in Word
1. Create the document content in plain text
Write your document including text and headings – you can leave the headings as normal text
2. Apply the title style
Select the text for the title of your document. In the styles menu at the top, click on ‘Title’. Your text will be given the title style. Don’t worry if you’re not happy with the appearance of the title – you can change it later.
3. Apply main headings
Identify your main headings within the document and for each one, repeat step 2, selecting ‘Heading 1’ this time.
4. Apply sub-headings
If you have sub-headings use the method in step 1 to apply ‘Heading 2’.
Customising heading styles
If you don’t like the appearance of the heading styles that Word has created, you can use either of these methods to change them:
Apply a different style set
Without having any text selected, go to the ‘Design’ tab in the top menu and hover over each of the built-in style sets to preview how it looks in your document. Click on your chosen style set to apply it to the document.
Create a custom heading style
- Select the text on one of your headings that you have applied a style to – a ‘Heading 1’, for example. Use the font formatting options in Word such as font, size, bold, and colour to amend the heading as required.
- Select the newly styled heading, and in the styles toolbar, right-click on the corresponding heading number and select ‘Update Heading 1 to match selection’. All the ‘Heading 1’ headings in your document will be given your new style.
Repeat the above steps to change the style of subheadings and the overall title if required
More ways to make your Word documents accessible.
To find out about other important steps to make your Word documents accessible, view this guide: Making Microsoft Word documents accessible