SCULPT Structure of a document - how headings work

Why does a document need a structure?

Documents often have visual and written cues to help you understand the structure of the content. These cues enable you to quickly skim through the document and directly dip into particular sections or topics of interest. 

But imagine

  • if you couldn't use a mouse and rely solely on a keyboard or assistive technology to read and navigate through it
  • if you have sight issues and can’t see it properly
  • if you couldn’t see it at all

Many people have these exact challenges, and they may use a screen reader to help them.

A screen reader doesn’t just read out loud word for word, it also has some clever features that simulate a navigation menu of chapters or topics within the document. With this navigation screen reader users can also quickly and easily tab through to get to content they need.

This useful navigation is provided when you apply a headings structure to your document, such as Heading 1, Heading 2 and Heading 3

Adding headings is very simple to do:

The heading structure of a document works like the structure of a book

cover of a book

Heading 1

The title of your document is like the name of a book. This title is your Heading 1 and ideally you would only ever use the Heading 1 once.

chapter in a book

Heading 2

The main topics in your document are like chapters of a book, these you would apply the Heading 2.

sub heading in a book

Heading 3

The smaller sub-sections you may have within chapters of your document, you would apply Heading 3.

How to add a heading structure for document navigation

In Microsoft Word the headings function is in-built into the toolbar. This means you can very easily select and apply headings to your document. You can also see the navigation menu you are creating for screen readers by opening the navigation pane. Please see the guidance and video below.

Guidance for applying headings in Microsoft Word

screengrab of how to apply headings

How to apply Headings

When the Home tab is selected across the top, Headings can be found in the menu functions.

You need to select the text and then click on the appropriate heading style to apply it.

screen grab of the navigation pane in Word

The Navigation Pane

To see the navigation structure of your document select the View tab across the top and then tick the box titled Navigation Pane.

screen grab of adding a table of contents

Adding a table of Contents

Having a heading structure means adding a table of contents is easy.

This is in the References tab and the table of contents will be pre-built for you from your heading structure.

Resources and guidance to support you

Document structure in PowerPoint

PowerPoint also needs structuring correctly if you are sharing these documents with others. You need to make sure each slide has a title and that the reading order of each slide is logical.

Other Microsoft products

Video:  Adding headings in Microsoft Word

SCULPT Bite-sized guidance menu


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