10 tips to keep your text formatting accessible
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
If you're creating content, I'm guessing that you'd like as many people as possible to be able to read and enjoy it.
Did you know that the way you format your text can have a real impact on its readability to certain groups?
For some people with conditions like dyslexia or visual impairment, the way you lay out your documents can really limit the benefit they get from reading/viewing it.
15% of people in the UK have dyslexia and 3% have some kind of visual impairment.
It doesn't end there, though, according to RNIB, nearly two thirds of people living with sight loss in the UK are women, and "one in 10 people from BME communities over the age of 65 will experience serious sight loss. Asian and Black ethnic groups are at greater risk of eye diseases (such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy) compared to other ethnic groups and are more likely to go blind". Adults with learning disabilities are also 10 times more likely to be blind or partially sighted than the general population.
So, what can you do to make your documents more inclusive?
1) Choose a font that is easy to read
That seems pretty obvious, but it's surprising how many people are still using fonts that are really difficult to read, and not just for the groups mentioned above, but for the general population as well. Avoid fonts with lots of unnecessary flicks and squiggles, or that are too bubbly. Nice rounded sans serif fonts like Arial and Calibri are easy for everyone to read.
2) Use a bigger font and larger line spacing
Font size 12 is ideal for most people to read but space doesn't always allow for it, especially in printed documents like magazines, flyers, brochures, etc. If this is the case, see 10.
Line spacing is the space between each line of text. A space of 1.5 is usually ideal for most readers. The automatic single line spacing can be over crowded for many readers and text can start to jump around the page.
3) Break up large pieces of text
Break up big sections of text in longer documents by using regular section headings in a larger font.
Keep your sentences and paragraphs short and indent the first word of a new paragraph to help with tracking. Where possible, try to keep your lines to about 60 to 70 characters long.
4) Avoid excessive use of text in upper case and small caps (capital letters)
This type of text can be unfamiliar to many readers and, therefore, more difficult to read. In addition to that, the lack of ascenders and descenders (the up and down sticks of letters like p and d) makes it more difficult to recognise the letters. Again, this is not just for the groups mentioned, but for everyone. Try reading a chunk of text that is all in upper case, then read the same piece of text written in sentence case - you'll notice that the lower case text is much easier to read.
5) Don't justify your text
While it might look nicer to have nice straight, equal lengthed lines, justified text is really difficult to read for people with dyslexia as it alters the spacing between words and can make the writing wobble more from line to line. Left aligned text is the easiest to read.
6) Don't hyphenate
As with justification, hyphenation makes your lines look nice and crisp, but splitting words at the ends of sentences makes your content much harder to read. Many people with dyslexia read words by recognising the shapes of the entire word rather than reading each letter individually. When you hyphenate a word and split it over two lines you are altering the shape of the word.
7) Don't save your text as an image
Many people with visual impairments and dyslexia use an assistive reading device or screen reader which works using character recognition. Saving the text as an image flattens the text so that it becomes invisible to these devices. If you really must save your text as an image (online), make sure you add alt text (see 8) to the image so that assistive devices can still describe the text to the reader.
8) Use alt text on images
Alt text is used in accessible web design to describe images to visitors who are unable to see them. Your alt text should clearly describe what is happening in your image, for example "old lady crossing the road, red car waiting".
9) Avoid coloured text and background colours
Coloured text, especially yellow and green, is very difficult to read (for most readers) so these should also be avoided in main bodies of text. Dark text on a light background is easiest to read.
Avoid background patterns and pictures as these can be distracting. When printing, consider alternatives to white as this can be too dazzling. Cream and pastel papers are best. Some dyslexic people will have their own colour preference so if you are printing for a specific person, ask what they prefer.
White text on a black background is just horrible for everyone so promise me you'll never use it! No one wants to be seeing your text when they close their eyes for the next ten minutes.
10) Offer your documents in other formats
If you really can't follow the above rules for design reasons or because of lack of space, you should always make your readers aware that they can request your document in other formats if needed.
One of the things that I check when proofreading marketing materials and other public facing documents is how accessible your text is. If you need help with any of the above, or need a professional to check the accessibility of your document, please get in touch.
Formatting is just one step, find out what simple changes you can make to your writing style to make your documents even more accessible on my next post.
Image credit: freeimageslive.co.uk gratuit