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Digital Accessibility

Heading Hierarchy

Headings do the important work of showing the structure of digital content. They help all users understand and navigate your documents or screens more easily, including those with disabilities.

Organizing Headings

Heading size order is critical to ensure everyone — not only those with disabilities — can easily understand the information you're trying to convey.

Nest headings topically according to points and subpoints.

You can use headings 1 through 6 to establish a clear order of information and break up text into readable chunks. Use sequential order, being sure not to skip levels or go out of order. 

Heading 1 serves a particular purpose.

Heading 1 should be used only once as the page or screen title. Other headings then serve as information subheadings and sub-subheadings under the heading 1 title.

Heading Order in OU Campus

If you are managing content for an sc.edu site inside the OU Campus CMS, you will only use headings 3 through 6. This is just one of the special considerations for adding headings in the OU Campus platform.
More About Headings in OU Campus »

 

Writing Headings

Headings should be concise and straightforward, communicating exactly what information someone will find if they engage with the content beneath that heading. Your goal should be to organize your content with headings that are written so clearly, someone could read only your headings and understand the gist of the entire page.

Good Heading Example: "Reasons Why Digital Accessibility Is Key"
This heading lets us know exactly what will be discussed in the content following.

Bad Heading Example: "Information About Digital Accessibility" 
This heading leaves us asking, what kind of information? It's too vague to clearly communicate what information will follow.

Bad Heading Example: "Digital Accessibility, Friend and Helper" 
This heading is trying too hard to be fun or clever. In doing so, it tells us little to nothing about what information will follow it.

Bad Heading Example: "Quick Links" 
This heading does not tell us anything about what follows the heading except that it will include links of some kind. 

Using Headings to Call Out Actions 

Whenever you have a major action you need or want people to take with your digital content, such as clicking a link or reading instructions, call that action out with a heading. Using a heading makes that action easier to find for everyone and separates it from the rest of your content.

Linking Headings

It's okay to use headings as links to further indicate an important action.

 

Incorrect Ways to Use Headings 

It's common to see headings used to achieve goals other than content organization. Using headings this way causes confusion for those using screen readers, which rely on correct heading hierarchy to communicate information effectively.

Don’t use headings to style text.

Headings are for showing the structure of your content, not for making your text look big or bold.

Making Content Stand Out

If you need to make part of your content stand out, try using: 

  • Bold Text
  • Ordered or Unordered Lists
  • Special Styling (if you have control of the content's design)

Don’t use empty headings for extra white space.

If you add a new line before a heading, it may also be formatted as a heading but appear empty. A blank heading looks like a gap in your site structure to those using screen readers.

Adding White Space

Place your cursor at the end of paragraph text or the end of a heading and hit "Enter" for a full paragraph break or "Shift+Enter" for a smaller break (also called a soft return). If you hit return from the end of a heading, you may accidentally add an empty heading instead of a paragraph.

 

Adding Headings in Specific Platforms

How you add headings will depend on the software you are using.

OU Campus

If you're working on an sc.edu site managed via the OU Campus CMS, there are special considerations for adding headings in this particular platform.

Document Creation Platforms

 

Checking Your Document's Heading Hierarchy

Before sharing your document, review the outline to check for correct heading order and ensure there are no empty headings.

Microsoft Word

Google Docs


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