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Sent Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

What are Headings?

You encounter headings every day, although you might not know them by that name. Headings are the titles and subtitles that provide structure for a document or webpage. Visually, headings are often enlarged or bolded so they stand out to sighted readers. This helps visual readers quickly skim the document and jump to the section they want to read.

Headings are equally important, if not more so, for people who use assistive technology. People who use screen readers often use headings to navigate quickly within a document and create a mental map of the document’s content. Imagine reading a book without any chapter headings and trying to find a specific section of the book just by skimming through the pages. A document without headings can be similarly difficult to navigate for screen reader users. Headings greatly enhance accessibility, as long as they are set up correctly.

How to Create Accessible Headings

1. Decide which text should become a heading.

Headings should reflect the structure and organization of the document. Think of headings like a table of contents; the reader should be able to understand the general organization and sections of a document by reading through its headings.

For example, a few of the headings used in this document are "What are Headings", "How to Create Accessible Headings", and "October Challenges".

2. Decide which level each heading should be.

Every heading is assigned a numerical level to indicate its relative importance or scope compared to other headings on the page.

  • A heading level 1 represents the broadest topic in a document; this typically should be the title of the document.
  • Every increase in heading level represents a narrowing in scope of the lower-numbered heading that precedes it. Level 2 headings are subtopics of the level 1 topic. Each heading level 2 might in turn have its own subtopics that would each be assigned heading level 3, and so on
  • Headings should only increase by one level at a time; never skip a level by nesting a heading 4 directly underneath a heading 2, for example.

Here is an example of good heading structure; note how the level 3 headings are subcategories of the level 2 headings under which they are nested:

  • H1: Department Name
    • H2: Courses
      • H3: Undergraduate Courses
      • H3: Graduate Courses
    • H2: Faculty
    • H2: Students
      • H3: Undergraduate Students
      • H3: Graduate Students

3. Apply heading styles to the appropriate heading text.

Use built-in heading styles in your content editor to create headings. The "Learn More" section below contains links to tutorials on how to create headings in a variety of popular content editing programs.

  • In most content editors, you start by highlighting the text you would like to make into a heading, and then apply the appropriate heading level from your program’s menu options.
  • Some editing platforms (like Microsoft Word and Google Docs) allow you to change the default styling applied to a heading level if you don't like the default appearance.

That’s it! Get in the habit of marking all titles and subtitles as headings, whether you are working in a Word document, webpage, Canvas page, or even an email. If you would like a hands-on demonstration or help, please email us at

October Challenges

  • Pick one platform that you use in your work (Microsoft Word, Canvas, WebExpress, etc.) and learn how to apply heading styles in that platform.
  • Pick a document or webpage that you or your department manages, and try to identify what would be the appropriate heading levels for the document’s section headings. If the document is missing headings or has inappropriate headings applied, try to change them to the correct heading levels. Feel free to send us your work if you'd like feedback on how you did!

Learn More