7 tips to improve accessibility for content authors

Learn practical ways to improve accessibility in our blog.

Did you know that you can improve accessibility beyond the code and design of a website? In fact, as a content author, you can influence accessibility too by how you write and present content. In this blog post, we'll cover how to improve accessibility in content authoring with practical advice.

7 accessibility tips for content authors

Accessible content means more people have access to the information on your website. Equally, if you are working in the public sector in New Zealand, you need to meet the Web Accessibility standard, which follows WCAG guidelines. These are a few easy content authoring(external link) accessibility tips to get you started.

1. Write in plain language

Have you ever read the same sentence three times and still not understood what it meant? Not being able to understand content is frustrating. When you write plainly, your readers have to work less to get your point. For instance, the longer a sentence is, the more difficult it is to understand. Instead, aim to write short sentences and use plain language. Plain language means avoiding:

  • slang(external link)
  • jargon
  • technical terms or abbreviations without introducing them
  • formal language.

Also, you can write in an active voice(external link) to provide clarity and shorten your sentences. Aim for sentences of twenty words or fewer. To practice this, review your content by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Does this make sense if someone is unfamiliar with my organisation or product?
  • Is this the best way to explain this idea?
  • Can this be split into more than one sentence?
  • Can I say the same thing in fewer words?
  • Would this be easier to understand in bullet points?

Clear writing benefits everyone, including people with low literacy, reading and cognitive disabilities or those who use assistive technology such as a screen reader or a Braille interface to consume content.

Learn more about how you can improve readability(external link).

2. Use unique page titles

When multiple tabs are open, can you quickly identify which tab is linked to what page? Ideally, the context should be clear instantly. You can achieve this by including the topic or purpose of the page at the start of your title to reduce cognitive load. The more unique the page title is, the easier it is to choose the right tab, especially when using a screen reader. For example, flipping 'organisation's name - reports' to ‘reports – organisation's name’.

When relevant information isn’t at the start of the page title, it's harder to identify the page. So when a screen reader reads the title, the user must wait until the end of each page title to know what page they’re on.

Learn more about naming page titles(external link).

3. Use clear and concise headings

Have you ever started reading content based on a heading only to find the content doesn’t match? Headings should tell readers what to expect on the page, so it’s frustrating when the expectation isn’t met. Your headings must be clear so readers can decide if the content is relevant without reading everything. Ensure your headings set accurate expectations by describing your content accurately.

To test if your headings are covering the purpose of your content:

  • Try overwriting to figure out the core concept of your section.
  • Put your sections into bullet points, and check if your headings match the content.
  • Check your headings align with the story of your content.

4. Follow a clear heading structure

Make your web pages more accessible by using headings in the proper order rather than based on aesthetics. Following the hierarchy of H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6 and using subheadings enables you to break content down into smaller sections of relevant information. The separation means users can easily navigate between sections and scan the content.

  • H1 is used to represent the main idea. H1 should only be used once for the title of a page.
  • H2 is a subsection of that idea.
  • H3 is a subsection of H2’s idea, and so on.

Note that when using assistive technologies, wrongly ordered headings make it difficult to skim the content in a logical way.

Learn more about how to use headings effectively.(external link)

5. Add alt text to images

Does your webpage still convey the same information with the images removed? While images can compellingly display information and concepts if a user has low vision, requires assistive technology, or has a slow internet connection, they can miss out on the content. Therefore, you need to add alt text to images and other non-textual elements on your web page to describe their contents

Include alt text in:

  • images
  • video
  • audio
  • buttons or links that don’t contain text
  • content not conveyed by text.

When creating your alt text, focus on the purpose of the image/content and the information it is trying to convey rather than including every detail.

There are three ways you can use alt text.

  • Normal images (graphics, graphs): Alt text should describe the image and any essential information it shares. For example, a graph's alt text should include the data shown on the graph.
  • Functional images (images that are links or buttons): Alt text should not describe the image but the purpose of the link or button. For instance, ‘Share this blog on LinkedIn’ or ‘Open help modal’.
  • Decorative images (no functional information): This is the only time not to use alt text. For example, alt=””.

Learn more about writing helpful alt text(external link).

6. Make your links descriptive

Hyperlinks are a great way to suggest related resources, download files, and share pages in web content. When skimming a page, users who use keyboard navigation or screen readers tab through the page’s elements, including the links, to get an idea of the page’s content. If a link has no context, a user must consume all the content to understand its relevance. So to aid understanding, give your links descriptive names. For example: “Elephant mourning rituals” is concise but still informative compared to “More info”.

To improve accessibility with links, search through your content for links named ‘Click here’ or ‘Read more’. These two Calls to Action (CTA)(external link) don’t provide context for the information or action tied to the link. When a link is descriptive, it provides information about its direction or action.

Learn more about naming links with their purpose.(external link)

7. Provide closed captions (CC)

If you can't hear the sound on a video, can you still enjoy and understand it? Most video content will have some form of auto-generated subtitles of the dialogue so you can get some idea. However, auto-generated subtitles don’t always accurately capture what is said, depending on the speaker’s accent and the algorithm used.

You should also consider how elements such as the howling wind add to building the suspense or how laughter off-screen can lighten the scene. Subtitles alone miss the unspoken details that are woven into video content. Closed captions (CC) include both dialogue and important sounds to convey the video’s full feeling and intention. To use closed captions effectively, they must synch with the dialogue and all meaningful audio to match the delivery. Plus, closed captions can be toggled on and off so they can be used as needed.

Read more about closed captions.(external link)

New Zealand web accessibility services

Creating accessible content doesn’t need to be hard or slow down your work. In fact, following accessibility guidelines improves your writing skills as it makes your content easier to understand. From here, develop a plan to include these practices in your everyday writing and make sure you review older content. As you strengthen your writing, make sure you also keep up to date with WCAG guidelines and follow accessibility champions to stay on top of new developments.

Your accessibility journey doesn’t need to end with what you can improve as a content author. Consider an accessibility audit of your website to identify other areas to improve accessibility. An audit includes a range of approaches for consuming your content, such as using a screen reader to navigate your site. At Catalyst, we provide the training, consulting, and support services you need to achieve your accessibility goals. Contact our accessibility experts today to get started.