Writing accessible web content
1. Introduction of accessible web content
Accessible writing is good writing. Accessible web content makes your content easier for everyone to consume. Here are some tips on how to write with accessibility in mind. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines follow the current v2.0 spec requirements for accessible websites. The W3C/WAI website is the absolute best resource for information on this subject.
Although the web has become a highly visual, multi-media channel, the text is still at the core of most information and transaction websites.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 defines how to make Web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility involves a wide range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities.
In other words, people come to a website for its content, either because they have a specific information need, seek entertainment or want to buy something. They expect this information to be easy to find, to access
and to understand, as well as being accurate, up-to-date and credible. Yet too many website owners concentrate their efforts on visual impact and design but pay scant attention to the quality of the copy.
In this, a blog you will learn how to write content that is search engine friendly, accessible, and present in an easy to read manner.
1.1 Good vs. bad web content
Good content effectively communicates its intended message to its intended audience.
Good content is always readable, makes sense and does not have any errors. Bad content is usually written in a rushed manner, does not make sense and usually does have errors. It might seem unfair, but readers that read content that doesn’t make sense or worse has a ton of spelling and grammatical errors can turn people away.
Any content you write should always have a call to action or intent. The point to writing a good piece of content is because you want the content to be able to “do” something or turn someone who is reading it to a different place.
2.Plan your work
To identify the purpose and goal of a message, it’s target audience(s); to
recognize the different types of pages on a website and understand their
Documentation is only as good as what people can get out of it. If the writing is too complicated, they won’t be able to use it. Plain language improves accessibility.
Keep your writing simple and concise with these tips:
- Keep sentences short. They should be around 20-25 words at most.
- Use simple words. Use words (or combinations of words ) with 1-2 syllables when possible. For example, use “to” instead of “in order to”. Use sites like these to find simple words to use:
- Use contractions.
- Use tools like Hemmingway Editor to measure the readability of your text. To meet WCAG standards, aim for a readability level of grade 8 and lower
3. Important components of accessible web content
3.1 Headings and sub-headings
Writing good headings and sub-headings is one of the most effective ways to make your content easier to read. Think of them as signposts to the information that readers are looking for. In addition, they are required to gaining greater visibility in search engines.
3.1.1 Tips for writing sub-heading and heading:
- Use headings for their intended purpose (i.e. as headings and not to emphasize a block of text).
- Use them in their logical order (i.e. start with <h1> followed by <h2> followed by <h3>, etc).
- Use sentence case (i.e. only the first word begins with a capital letter – unless other words in the heading are proper nouns).
- Make them as descriptive as possible of the section they introduce, using keywords: e.g. Activity tips for parents.
- Leave out as many prepositions and adjectives as you can.
- Start with a verb when writing actionable content: e.g. Stay healthy or Staying healthy.
- When appropriate use questions: e.g. What kind of activity is good for my heart?
- They should make sense when taken out of context.
- Use three or four heading levels at most.
The main page heading should:
- <h1> and used only once on each page.
- Quickly and accurately describe the content of the page
- Appear at the beginning of each new section, whenever the subject-matter changes.
- Start with <h2>s, to introduce each new main section, and if necessary <h3>s to introduce each sub-section, etc.
3.2 Lists and tables
Lists and tables save the reader time because they draw attention to important information and make this information easy to grab. Therefore they should be used whenever possible.
Tips for using lists:
- Use lists for individual items belonging to the same category of information.
- Use bullet lists (<ul> HTML tag) when list items have no particular order.
- Use numbered lists (<ol> HTML tag) when order matters (e.g. steps in a process, instructions, etc).
- Try to keep unfamiliar lists to 5 to 10 items maximum.
Tips for using tables:
- The table should be used to present data, not for layout purposes (e.g. aligning images with text).
- Use tables when there is more than one category of information and at least two items (i.e. at least two columns and rows).
- Use tables to compare numbers.
- Use tables to answer questions when there are several options (e.g. list of costs for different room hire options).
- A two-column table can also be used to display a series of “if…, then…” statements (e.g. “If you are…, Do…”).
- Table columns (and if relevant rows) should have clear headings.
- Keep tables simple: not too many columns (most readers are likely to miss information if they have to scroll sideways to find it) and rows (if readers have to scroll down, the column headers are no longer visible) – if a necessary break up complex tables into smaller ones.
Emphasis is highlighting keywords and important phrases on a page in order to draw the reader’s attention. In print this is done in different ways: bold, underline, italics and capitalization.
Tips for using emphasis:
- Bold is best… but use it sparingly: i.e. no more than 5 words or phrases per paragraph.
- The highlighted terms or phrases on a page should give the reader a good overview of its content.
- Use italics even more sparingly: e.g. foreign words and phrases, titles of works (films, books, etc), scientific taxonomy and for clarity (e.g. the word sepoy means…), but never a whole sentence or paragraph as these are more difficult and slower to read.
- Do not use underline… people will try to click on it!
- Do no use BLOCK CAPITALS other than for abbreviations and acronyms (e.g. UNESCO) – used for whole sentences, THEY REDUCE LEGIBILITY AND LOOK RATHER INELEGANT!
- … and COMBINING DISPLAY STYLES IS TOTALLY UNNECESSARY!
4. Make text easy to understand
Making text easy to understand means writing in plain (simple) English, clearly and concisely, in a style that is appropriate for your target audience.
Simplicity is a double-edged sword. The challenge is to harness the benefits while avoiding the potential pitfalls.
Tips for writing simply:
- Use simple everyday words (i.e. Plain English) whenever possible
- Avoid wordy expressions such as in view of the fact that… (use as or because of instead) and impersonal constructions such as It is generally believed that… often found in academic writing.
- Avoid using foreign words.
- Avoid nominalizations (i.e. turning verbs into nouns)
- Write simple sentences
- Use the active voice most of the time: e.g. A technician has investigated the incident. (Active) rather than The incident has been investigated by a technician. (Passive)
- use the passive voice
To be tactful: e.g. Lessons will be learned from this debacle.
To emphasize the person or thing acted on: e.g. Penicillin was first discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming.
Writing clearly means writing without ambiguity, in a way that removes all potential causes of confusion and misunderstanding in the reader.
Writing concisely is about choosing the most effective words and omitting unnecessary ones.
Tips for writing concisely:
- Cut unnecessary adjectives and adverbs: e.g. actively consider (think); very high (huge).
- Use adjectives and adverbs to be more precise rather than to increase emphasis (how much of something) e.g. use dear (price), tall (elevation), piercing (sound), etc rather than very high.
- Use the most concise prepositions: e.g. for instead of in relation to.
- Replace phrases with single words of the same meaning whenever possible: e.g. now, currently instead of at this moment in time.
Every link should describe what the user can expect to find when they click it. This is key for the Links List tool that screen readers provide.
Tips for writing link text:
- The most important rule is to make link text meaningful and as descriptive as possible of their target – for this reason, NEVER USE click here, read more, etc
- Don’t embed too many links in each paragraph, they disrupt continuity and understanding.
- Indicate when linking to other file types (e.g. Word documents, PDFs) by specifying the type and size in the bracket after the link.
5. Write a Meaningful Text Equivalent for Images
If you are using a website to convey information, you will come across a field for alternative text, or alt text, when uploading an image. For decorative images, leave the alt text field blank. The screen reader will ignore the image in this case.
6. Accuracy and reliability
Credibility and trustworthiness can take a long time to build but can be quickly undone through lack of attention to details. Remember that your web page will be seen by thousands of people, so take lots of care over what you write!
For more reference, you may refer to the following links: