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 help to 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 its own built-in mechanism for applying structure that is accessible.  

What do you mean by “document structure”? 

The document structure is the organization of a document that is broken down into sections using headings and subheadings. Individuals who use adaptive technology rely 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 dense and uninviting into words that are much 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 scanning through your document and finding the parts of the document someone wants to read easier for anyone, 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 the top “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, the software 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.
  • Do not 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 are looking for. 

In Moodle:

  1. Highlight the text you would 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, the text will look different to others depending on their own screen size and browser settings. The important aspect is to maintain that hierarchical structure.
  3. On the back end, “Heading 1” (is your Course Title) and is represented by a <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 do not go by size – go by logic and structure. 

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


Article ID: 115364
Wed 9/2/20 12:06 PM
Wed 3/24/21 10:59 AM