A good heading structure is one of the most important accessibility considerations in Word documents. Headings provide context and a way to navigate through documents. They allow us to scan documents, either visually or with a screen reader, in order to find content we are searching for.

How to create document headings

Just by making text a larger font size and bold doesn’t mean you’ve successfully created a heading structure. For those with vision impairments, a screen reader is utilized to “scan” documents based on heading structure. A screen reader can’t differentiate based on font size or a bold tag; instead, it navigates through a document based on preset heading tags.

Headings should be selected based on their hierarchy, or importance. Remember, the heading numbers refer to the level, not the look of the heading. You can always change the style for headings to suit your needs, but they should be used in the correct order:

  • Heading 1 = top level heading
  • Heading 2 = subheading of Heading 1
  • Heading 3 = subheading of Heading 2

The page title is typically a Heading 1. Subsequent headings are utilized throughout the document to create a nested structure. For example:

Title, or Heading 1

Summary sentence or short paragraph goes here.

Heading 2

Content goes here.

Heading 3

Content relating to Heading 2 topic.

Heading 3

More content relating to Heading 2 topic.

Heading 2

Content goes here.

Preset heading styles

In Microsoft Word, there are preset heading styles. These can be changed by selecting the text you’d like to make into a heading, right clicking on the heading level at the top of the document, then selecting Modify. Within the dialog box, you can change heading formats based on HSC brand guidelines, choosing from the fonts ITC New Baskerville, Frutiger, or Aachen or substitute fonts of Georgia, Arial or Impact.


See Microsoft Word style basics.
See WebAim tips for headings.