Structure guidelines

Clear structure is important to improve document accessibility

These guidelines and screenshots apply specifically to Microsoft Word 2013 on Windows. There may be differences when applying the techniques in other versions of Microsoft Word.

Provide appropriate heading structure for a document

Heading structures with a distinct, visual style help individuals with visual impairments understand how a document is organized. Appropriate headings also act as secondary navigation tools that help readers skim and scan the document.

Headings should fit an outline. Making text larger or bolder does not make it a heading in Word.

Add headings to a document

Use the built-in heading styles to apply uniform heading structure to Word documents.

Word Styles contain preconfigured headings understood by assistive technology (e.g., Heading 1- Heading 6). These headings are available under the Styles section in the Home tab of the Ribbon.

Apply the “Heading 1” style for the main heading and “Heading 2” for sub-headings. Additional organization and division of topics should use the appropriate head style: “Heading 3,” “Heading 4,” etc. without going past "Heading 6."

Screenshot of the Microsoft Word 2013 on Windows Home tab with both the View tab and the heading styles Heading 1 and Heading 2 highlighted.
Use the Home tab’s Styles menu to add heading styles.

Verify headings

Every heading in a document can be verified using the Navigation Pane, located in the Show group on the View tab of the Ribbon.

This pane also allows users to navigate to any section of the document by clicking on the corresponding heading.

Screenshot of the Microsoft Word View tab with both the View tab and the Navigation Pane checkbox highlighted.
Use the View tab to add navigation panes.

Structure data tables

Provide the simplest-possible table structure and appropriate headers to help as many users as possible understand and navigate tables and their content.

Unfortunately, Word currently does not support row headers that can be detected by assistive technology. Word does support accessible column headings, so use those in data tables whenever possible instead of row headers.


To add column headers to the first row of a table in Word:

  1. Select that row.
  2. Go to the Table Tools’ Layout tab on the Ribbon.
  3. Choose the Repeat Header Rows option in the Data group.

Note: The Design tab has options that can be used to change the visual appearance of the table without affecting its accessibility. However, these visual changes will not provide the necessary structural information for assistive technology, so be careful when using them.

The Word Table Tools Layout tab with the Repeat Header Rows option selected and highlighted. The Layout tab is also highlighted.
Use the Layout tab to repeat header rows.

Add a table of contents to a document

For long documents, adding a table of contents provides an overview of all of the topics and subtopics to help users navigate the document more easily.

Before adding a table of contents in Microsoft Word, all other changes to the document should be completed, including a spelling and grammar check. This prevents having to update and edit the table of contents.


To create a table of contents in Word:

  1. Go to the References tab of the Ribbon.
  2. Then select a Table of Contents option, located under the Table of Contents group.
Word References tab with the Table of Contents option selected and submenu open.  The Automatic Table 1 option is selected.  The references tab Built-in Table of Contents options and Custom Table of Contents option are highlighted.
Use the References tab to add a built-in or manual table of contents.