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Document Structure

Keep your body copy as focused as possible.

Remember that you’re likely to be battling outside factors for people’s attention, not least their mood and situation. They might be looking on a mobile on a train, trying to complete their task online in the middle of a stressful family event, or any combination of multiple unknowns. If you want their attention, do not waste their time.

  • Do not repeat the summary in the first paragraph.
  • Use the "inverted pyramid" approach with the most important information at the top tapering down to lesser detail.
  • Break up text with descriptive sub-headings. The text should still make sense with the sub-headings removed.
  • Paragraphs should have no more than 5 sentences each.
  • Includes keywords to boost natural search rankings.

Headings

Use heading levels (sub-headings) to break up your content and give it a sensible navigation structure. Each document or webpage needs to begin Heading 1 (H1), then proceed with an Heading 2 (H2). Do not skip heading levels, for example from H2 to H4. Screen reader users may navigate using a list of headings — a missed heading level can make this confusing. The document templates created by the Office of Information and Technology already have the proper formatting setup and all you have to do is assign the appropriate heading level.

Do not use bold text instead of using sub-headings. This is inaccessible because a screen reader will not recognize it as a header.

Make sure your sub-headings relevant text to make it easier to skim and actionable.

Do not use:

  • technical terms unless you’ve already explained them
  • ‘introduction’ as your first section — users do not want an introduction, just give the most important information

Websites

Do not use Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This is primarily for websites. FAQs are strongly discouraged. If you write content by starting with user needs, you will not need to use FAQs.

FAQs are discouraged because they:

  • duplicate other content on the site
  • cannot be front-loaded (putting the most important words people will search for), which makes usability difficult
  • are usually not frequently asked questions by the public, but important information dumped by the content editor
  • mean that content is not where people expect to find it; it needs to be in context
  • can add to search results with duplicate, competing text

Do not hide content

It is often thought to be cutting edge to hide content awaiting some interaction. While some micro-interactions are fine, generally speaking, users should be able to get the basic information by scanning your website. According to research, website visitors only read 20-28 percent of the content relying heavily on scanning to get to the content they need. This also applies to content that is traditionally hidden for assistive technology to explain complex graphics or data visualizations. In many cases, these explanations will help all website visitors better understand the content.

 

Disclaimer

This website includes links to other websites outside our control and jurisdiction. VA is not responsible for the privacy practices or the content of non-VA Web sites. We encourage you to review the privacy policy or terms and conditions of those sites to fully understand what information is collected and how it is used.

Statement of Endorsement

Reference herein to any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes.

Page last updated on February 7, 2022

Digital Accessibility Guide

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