Loyola University Maryland

Accessibility at Loyola

Headings and Document Structure

Structure your documents using paragraph styles (for documents) or heading tags (for web pages). These built in tools you will learn about throughout this page create a document that is accessible to screen readers, but the added bonus is, the document will be well organized for all users as well. Document structure best practices are applicable across many platforms. They can be used in email, blog posts, research papers or websites. These tips are universal and each platform has their own built in mechanism for applying structure that is accessible.  

What do you mean by “document structure”? 

It is the organization of a document that is broken down into sections using headings and subheadings.  Individuals who use adaptive technology relay on properly formatted headings to understand and navigate digital content. Without this structure there is no easy way to navigate a document. Take a look at an example of a screen reader in action with a poorly formatted document

Well structured documents transform your writing from something dense and uninviting into something that is easier to read:

Two documents, one with no headings and the other with headings.

How Headings Help 

Learn to organize your paragraphs under descriptive headings, and apply "styles" to these headings in Microsoft Word. This habit will make it easier for anyone to scan through your document and find the parts of the document they want to read, an attribute known as “scannability”.

  1. Highlight the text that you want to turn into a heading.
  2. Instead of applying manual formats by bolding, italicizing or changing the font size separately, find the “styles” menu in “ribbon” of Word (or PowerPoint, or Excel).
  3. The little icon in the corner of the styles menu allows you to expand to see more options. 

Screenshot of the Headings Tool in Microsoft Office Suite

The software applies not only the text size, boldness or color, it also adds space before and after the heading line. This allows for easier readability as your eye lands on the item and begins to scan through the document. 


  • Don’t like the default style? Visit Microsoft’s help page on customizing and creating your own styles.
  • Don't use “title”. Make the first heading in the document a Heading 1. 
  • Another bonus of using paragraph styles to mark up your documents is that your software can use them to automatically create a table of contents. Depending on the version of Word you have, the table of contents feature may look like this:
     Table of Contents Dialog Box in Microsoft Word

Headings and Moodle or SiteCore (HTML)

Headings create a hierarchical representation of your document, which is especially useful in Moodle course websites and any other type of webpage. Screen reader software can isolate a list of headings on the page that the user can scroll through, scanning until they find the header that is most likely to have the information they’re looking for. 

In Moodle:

  1. Highlight the text you’d like to make into a heading. In the WYSIWYG editor, find the paragraph styles pulldown menu:Screenshot of the Headings Tool in Moodle
  2. Choose the headings large, medium, or small, based on the hierarchy of your written content, rather than your preferred size. Even if the size feels inappropriately large or small on your screen, it will look different to others depending on their own screen size and browser settings. The important thing is to maintain that hierarchical structure.
  3. On the back end, “Heading 1” (is your Course Title) and is represented by an <h1> tag in HTML. Heading 2 is <h2>, and so on. Heading 2's in Moodle are the Module or Weekly sections. So when you start building your course site, Heading (large) <H3> will be your first option. Remember, adaptive technologies and phone access are relying on properly structured and nested tags, so don’t go by size--go by logic and structure. 

Adapted from https://accessibility.umn.edu/core-skills/headings