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For everyone Accessible text formatting


Formatting and displaying your text in the right way can go a long way to making your content easy to understand and more accessible for our users. These practical tips should be applicable for pretty much all formats, whether content is published on the web, in a printed document or in a presentation.

In general, publishing on the web in HTML is the preferred format for most communications, as it is more accessible than, for example, publishing in a PDF. You can read more in the guidance for publishing accessible documents (opens in a new tab) 

Important information:

If you have a legitimate need for a PDF, ensure you follow our PDF accessibility guidance.

General guidance

Write simply

If you write simply, it is better for everybody. Even if you’re explaining something complicated. This is known as writing in Plain English (opens in a new tab) . The UK’s average reading age is nine years old; you can use apps such as Hemmingway (opens in a new tab)  to check how your work compares to this, and make simple edits to make the text clearer and more understandable.

Use in-built accessibility checkers

Common software such as Microsoft Word usually has accessibility checkers built-in. You just need to find it, run it and follow the instructions. If you aren’t sure how to use the software, there are lots of resources like this Microsoft accessibility video training (opens in a new tab)  series to help you learn.

Layout and structure

Use a heading structure

All content should have hierarchy and follow a logical heading structure. Working with three or four heading levels is a good rule of thumb. Ensure these are used in the correct order with levels not being skipped, for example do not follow a heading 2 with a heading 4, as it skips heading 3.

Using in-built styles (opens in a new tab)  can be a helpful starting point. Styles improve the accessibility of documents because they allow the text to be easily navigated. When used, styles also help to build your table of contents for you.

Consider the reading order

The reading order of any design should be the same as the visual hierarchy (opens in a new tab) . It should flow naturally from one area of content to another – test this by asking someone to read what you’ve written in order. Consider prioritising the information on the page using scale, contrast or space.

One single column of text is easier to read than multiple columns

Set your text in a single column as this is easier to read than two columns for a lot of users. If you need to use multiple columns on some occasions that’s ok, just make sure the reading order is clear.

White space is helpful

You don’t need to fill every bit of space with information. White space can be used to separate information, or create a pause in reading (just like when you reach the end of a chapter in a book). White space can even be used…

….to create emphasis

So instead of defaulting to the bold button or SHOUTING in capital letters, try adding a bit of space.

Text formatting

Left aligned, non-justified text is easiest to read

Use left aligned text by default, as this is the best reading experience in most circumstances. Centred and right aligned text slows readers down trying to find where the next line begins, so these should only be used sparingly and only on short pieces of content. Avoid using justified text as it creates awkward, uneven spacing, sometimes even stretching the letters in a word.

Limit the use of capital letters

Overuse of capital letters can make text difficult to read, as the letters are harder to distinguish from one another. Words may be incorrectly processed by screen readers resulting in every individual letter being spoken. It also looks like you are SHOUTING if you write whole sentences in capital letters. Use all caps sparingly (opens in a new tab) .

Use adequate font sizes

Minimum font size can vary based on the use, and font choice, but for a general A4 document set in Arial, 12 point should be the minimum. If you need to inform users in "large print" then set the text at 16 point or more. For posters or presentations use 18 point or more. If in doubt, consider the space in which the work will be shown, and adjust the sizes to best suit the reading distance. These sizes come from UKAAF Clear and Large Print Guidelines (opens in a new tab)  and are meant as a guide. Doing your own user research with your products is always recommended.

When publishing on the web, your website should (hopefully) already be designed to publish at adequate type sizes for the different displays it will appear on. If not, it is usually possible for users to control text sizes using their browser.

Try not to make lines of text too long

75-120 characters per line is a comfortable reading width for most people. One way to get a basic measure of a good line length is to do an alphabet test (opens in a new tab) . Run two to three alphabets of your typeface (as shown below). You can use this as a very rough guide to set a comfortable width of a column of text:


Adjust line spacing to suit the font size and line length

Line spacing (opens in a new tab)  or "leading" is the space between lines of text. A good measure is 120% to 145% of the font size – typically start with the "auto" setting, then adjust by very small increments. The longer the line length, the more space may be needed between lines. Larger text sizes over 18pt may require a slight line spacing reduction, but if in doubt use the "auto" setting. Try to avoid double line spacing, it adds too much space, 1.5 is better.

Differentiate links (opens in a new tab)  in the body of the text with both underlines and a high contrast colour, blue is the standard. Avoid generic phrases such as “Click here” in link text. Other ambiguous links, such as “More” or “Continue“, can also be confusing because a screen reader might read them out loud. Instead, refer to the thing which you are linking to within your text, so for example:


Design with contrast

There are millions of people in the UK living with sight loss (opens in a new tab) . Using greater contrast between the text and its background will help people to read it. So when choosing colours, check the contrast levels of the text on its background using a color contrast checker (opens in a new tab) . The minimum contrast value required to meet the basic standard of acceptable accessibility (AA) is 3:1 – so you’re looking for a number above this.

Another quick tip is to use the squint test, sit back and squint your eyes, can you still distinguish the letters from their background? Does the most important information on the page draw your eyes the most?

It’s important to say this doesn’t mean you always need to write everything in bold. But avoid using light coloured text on light backgrounds, and dark coloured text on dark backgrounds.

Do not rely on colour alone

Millions of people in Britain have some form of colour vision deficiency (opens in a new tab)  (color blindness). So try not to rely on colour alone (opens in a new tab)  to differentiate something in your work. Green and red are a classic case, many people cannot tell these colours apart (hence why traffic lights in the UK also follow a sequence). And if you do use colour to help explain something – check it with colour blindness software.

Tables and charts should be well described and constructed

When creating tables or charts, think carefully about where they are going to be displayed. If a highly complex table or chart is going in a slide presentation for example, think about providing it to your audience separately. You should also write a clear and explanatory title (opens in a new tab)  and describe what the data is showing.

For more help, follow our data visualisation guidance and table guidance on (opens in a new tab) .

Pictures are worth a thousand words (sometimes)

Pictures can certainly be helpful when visualising a point, drawing attention or adding richness and emotion to content. However they should never be a replacement for a clear description. If like many people, a reader can’t see the image, the point could be missed altogether. If you can’t say or write your point clearly in text, you really shouldn’t use a picture instead.

Do not forget to add alt text

Alt text (opens in a new tab)  is text used to describe what an image is in case the image doesn’t load. It is also helpful as context for screen reading tools used by people who are visually impaired. To add alt text you will need to follow some basic instructions; in Microsoft Office you need to format the image (opens in a new tab) ; in Google Docs; select the image and press Ctrl+Alt+Y, then write a title and description of the image.

Important information:

W3C have created an alt text decision tree (opens in a new tab)  to help people create and format alt text properly.

Help improve this page

Let us know how we could improve this page, or share your user research findings. Discuss this page on GitHub (opens in a new tab)