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Best practice: Creating inclusive Word documents

As Word is one of the most commonly used programmes in teaching, it is important that the documents we create are suitable for all to use. Please be aware that some learners may require additional adjustments. You are encouraged to discuss these with them on a case by case basis (rather than making assumptions about what they need or do not need).


Write in plain language and avoid jargon and abbreviations. If you need to use acronyms or specialist language think about having a glossary section to explain the terms you are using. Acronyms should always be explained the first time you use them in a document. Do not assume that because you have used an acronym before, that your learners will remember what it means. This is particularly relevant for learners with dyslexia.

Avoid using colloquialisms, slang and metaphors. Some of your learners will have English as a second language and may not understand these references.

Write in short, simple sentences. If your sentences are more than about 20 words long, they are too long and you should revise your text.


Use proper headings (e.g. heading one, heading two etc.). Do not use bold or underlined text as headings and try to be logical with your use of headings. Main section headings should be styled with a larger heading (e.g. heading one). Sub-section headings should be styled with a smaller heading (e.g. heading two). Consider using templates to save any custom heading styles you create as this will save you time.

Use a common, plain font (san serif) and a text size of at least 12 point. Black text on a white or cream background is best (although some learners with visual impairments may find white text on a dark background easier to read).

Do not switch fonts in your document. Pick one font and use it consistently throughout. Additionally, left justify your text and consider how you use white space on the page. Does the page look crowded? If so then you probably need to rethink the layout.

Use proper list formatting for numbered or bulleted lists. Screen readers will then recognise that the text is part of a list and treat it as such.

Preserve ‘tab’ order to make it easier for screen readers to read your document. For longer documents consider creating an automatic table of contents. This makes it easier for everyone to navigate. This is available under the References tab at the far left of the ribbon.

Table of contents button location on Word references tab

Use bold for emphasis not italics and avoid large amounts of UPPERCASE text as this is sometimes difficult for learners with dyslexia to read. Do not underline text (except when creating hyperlinks) and do not use a double space after a full stop.

Please note that headers and footers are not read by all screen readers so do not include important information in them. When a screen reader reads endnotes they are automatically read alongside the text. So just be aware that this may result in your document not being interpreted in the way that you expect it to be.


Do not use colour as the only way of conveying meaning. If you want to use colour you should always provide a text alternative for learners with visual impairments. In the first table below, the mandatory module is shown in red and the optional module is shown in green. This is not suitable for learners with red/green colour blindness or for learners who rely on screen readers, as the colours will not be picked up by the software.

Introduction to grammar
Intermediate grammar

A simple accessible alternative is:

Introduction to grammar (mandatory)
Intermediate grammar (optional)

Visual content

Visual content includes images, SmartArt graphics, shapes, groups, charts, embedded objects and ink. The guidance on using visual content in documents is the same as the more general guidance on using this type of content. Please see the accessibility page for further information. Additionally, any images that you add to your Word document should be added inline with the text rather than floated or aligned left or right. This will ensure that the alt text tag works correctly for screen readers.


Keep your tables as simple as possible and do not use nested tables (tables embedded within tables) as this is really poor practice from an accessibility perspective.

Add your table to your document and then click in one of the cells to activate the Table Design ribbon. In the Table Style Options section on the far left of the ribbon, make sure that the Header Row checkbox is ticked. If you also want to add headings to the first column, add a tick to the First Column checkbox as well.

Word table ribbon layout

It is good practice to ensure that any Table Style that you choose has good contrast between individual rows and the table background and the text they contain. Avoid splitting and merging cells within tables as the content in these types of cells is difficult for screen readers to interpret. Also consider breaking up complex tables into multiple parts.


When you type a URL onto a document, Word will recognise it and convert it into a clickable link. This is really convenient but these links frequently do not make much sense and are difficult for screen readers to interpret. A more accessible option is to edit the link text to make it more descriptive. Once you have added a URL to a page and it has been converted into a link, right click on it and choose Edit Hyperlink from the drop down menu.

Edit link menu in Word

Change the text in the Text to display: field at the top of the dialogue box that appears and then click on OK.

Edit hyperlink dialogue box

Alternatively you can include a very clear description either above or below the link to explain what will happen when it is clicked on.


It is not possible to make Word forms accessible. Forms either have to be set up in completely protected mode or partially protected mode to stop users making changes to the form. This causes problems for screen readers as users have to use a combination of mouse/cursor actions with tab keys to access the editable parts of the form. Most experienced screen reader users will struggle to use this combination of controls on a form they were familiar with. However, every institution has its own bespoke forms with little or no consistency which makes the task almost impossible. Therefore, if you need to use a form to gather data, you should create either a PDF or an HTML form instead.

Accessibility checker

Microsoft Word has a built in accessibility checker that you can use to check how accessible your document is before you use it. Whilst this should not be solely relied upon, it does check the most basic accessibility components. To access it, click on the Review tab and then click on the Check Accessibility button on the ribbon.

Word accessibility checker location