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Microsoft Word - Adding Headings to a Document

One of the key ways to make Microsoft Word documents accessible is to use Word's built-in heading styles to format the document.

Why Use Headings

Accessible documents benefit everyone - not just those with disabilities! For example, accessible documents benefit cell phone and tablet users, as well as students with low bandwidth access. Accessible documents also make it easier for browsers to display them and are much easier to convert to various platforms or other formats.

Headings aren't just a good idea - they're required for accessibility. Microsoft Word provides pre-built heading styles to assist you.

Add Heading Styles in Word

Documents with a proper heading structure allow screen reader and other assistive technology users to:

  • view a list of all of the headings on the page to navigate
  • choose top-level headings or other heading levels and
  • read or navigate a document by using headings.

Most of us scan a document or page quickly and look for big, bold text (headings) to get an idea of its structure and content. Screen readers and other assistive technologies also need to scan a document. They read and navigate through a document by using the heading structure.

To do this, documents should be structured in a hierarchical manner:

  • Heading 1 is usually a page title or the main content heading. Generally, there is only one such header, and it is usually the most important.
  • Heading 2 is usually a major section heading.
  • Heading 3 is usually a sub-section of the Heading 2.
  • Heading 4 is usually a sub-section of the Heading 3, and so on, ending with Heading 6.


  • Lower-level headings should be contained within headings of the next highest heading.
  • You should not skip heading levels, such as using Heading 4 directly below Heading 2.
  • Headings should have descriptive text that give users a good idea of the content they will find within that section of the document.

Applying Heading Styles

  1. Select the text to be styled with a heading.
  2. Click the Home tab - see the heading styles listed in the Styles pane.

    Header style list in top right

  3. Click on the heading style you want to apply to the selected text.
  4. To remove or change the heading style applied, highlight the text and select the Normal style, or a different heading style.

Verifying Your Headings

It is good practice to check that your headings create a logical outline for your content and verify that all of the headings are displayed in the headings list in the Navigation Pane.

Note: Instructions may vary when using Office versions older than Office 2019 or the Office 365 web versions, and/or Macintosh Office applications.
  1. Click the View tab
  2. Check the Navigation Pane option in the Show group (OR press Ctrl+F).

    View | Check the navigation pane box

  3. The Navigation pane opens on the left. Click Headings to display the headings hierarchically. The headings should be nested in a logical manner.
  4. Click on a heading in the Navigation pane to move to specific parts of the document. 

Modifying Pre-Defined Heading Styles

You can modify a pre-defined style to change the visual display:

  1. On the Home tab, right-click the style you wish to change in the Style pane and select Modify...
  2. In the Modify Style pop-up window, you can change the font type, font size, formatting, spacing, color, etc.

    Modify Style | Check Automatically Update
  3. Click the Format drop-down list in the bottom left corner to navigate through other style options.
  4. Check Automatically Update in the bottom left corner so that any text with that style applied in your document is automatically updated.
  5. Click OK -- all text formatted with that heading style will change.

Note: Remember - there must be sufficient color contrast between the text and the background color to meet accessibility requirements.

Understand and Fix Color Contrast Issues

See Also:

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Owner:Sharley K.Group:IT Knowledge Base
Created:2020-12-08 23:01 CDTUpdated:2022-10-11 08:53 CDT
Sites:IT Knowledge Base
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