Writing tip: Use a template in Word to improve accessibility

Always use an appropriate template for documents that you write at work.

If they're good templates and you use them well, you are more than half-way to achieving an accessible document.

It's easy to pooh-pooh MS Word as a tool. It's so familiar. You have been using it for years. In your heart of hearts, you may feel you know pretty much everything you need to know, and that you have the right to design your own documents for work.

But you pay a price for bypassing the company templates. Read on...

A properly constructed template produces many benefits
Besides documents with an easily recognized brand, see what you gain with a template:

  • Consistent use of logos, headers and footers throughout the organization.
  • Consistent use of accessible fonts and layouts.
  • Every type of content in the right position.
  • Consistent use of Styles: every type of content labelled with its function.
  • A file of acceptable size.
  • A document capable of being converted into a tagged PDF.

What if you don't have a template?
Ask your communications team for an appropriate template. This template is not just for you: all staff should use it. If you don't have a suitable template, someone needs to create one from scratch.

Your DOC gains many accessibility features from a good template. And when you convert your DOC into a tagged PDF, those features will be retained and reflected in the PDF. Brilliant!

What if the template has problems?
Don't try and fix your document by fiddling with Styles and layout: that won't improve accessibility—in fact, it may make matters worse. Instead, contact the template designer or owner, or your communications team. If you have template problems, so do other staff writers, and the problems need to be fixed at the source.

For accessible documents, don't take short-cuts


Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine




April 10, 2012

Great post but pity about the photo… call me oversensitive.

Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

April 10, 2012

You are right, Mireia. I have replaced the photo with one of the wreck of the Rena off the New Zealand coast. Even so, while no people were drowned, many birds died, and it was an environmental disaster.


April 04, 2012

Thanks for this. It’s great to have the benefits highlighted in a way that will be easily sharable with others.


Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

April 05, 2012

Very glad to help you spread the word!

Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up.