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Increase Accessibility (and visibility) by Using Correct PowerPoint Headings


Headings are essential for making your information more accessible and inclusive. Avoid taking shortcuts - use the headings format!
Headings are essential for making your information more accessible and inclusive. Avoid taking shortcuts - use the heading format in all of your documents!

The constant bombardment of information has created short attention spans. Headings (headers) help consumers of information skim through content and determine what to read and why. Google, Bing, and other web interfaces use heading for search engine optimization (SEO). Headings are important in making our PowerPoint slides and written reports more accessible for people with visual and hearing impairments.


The improper use of headings is one of the top five mistakes related to accessibility and inclusion. Issues related to headings are found in reports, tables, PowerPoint slides, and websites. Regardless of medium, headings should be used in (and establish) a logical order, included with every text section or slide, be short, and contain meaningful information.


What is a Heading?

A heading is a short phrase that indicates the next section of your report or presentation. Headings are used to organize the discussion and to lead the reader through the information. The reader should be able to preview your report by just the headings.


The Audience Needs Headings

Knowing what to expect and how it all links together allows the reader to absorb the material more quickly and easily.


Headings and subheadings represent the key concepts and supporting ideas. Headings usually have multiple levels. For example, both Microsoft PowerPoint and the American Press Association (APA) Manual provide five levels by default. Heading levels indicate the relationships between the underlying thoughts and text.


Heading Levels

APA has specific formatting guidelines for each heading level that need to be followed consistently.

  • Level 1 - Centered, Bolded, and Title Case Heading

  • Level 2 - Left aligned, Bolded, and Title Case Heading

  • Level 3 - Indented 1.27 cm from the left margin, bolded, sentence case heading with a full stop. Begin body text immediately after heading.

  • Level 4 - Indented 1.27 cm from the left margin, bolded, italicized, sentence case heading with a full stop. Begin body text immediately after heading.

  • Level 5 - Indented 1.27 cm from the left margin, italicized, sentence case heading with a full stop. Begin body text immediately after heading.


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Needs Headings

The order of headings on anything posted on the internet is critical. It is important for those with assistive devices, it is important for end users, and it is important for indexing by Google, Bing, and other search engines.


Every single report page, including Portable Document Format (PDF) and presentation slide (including Microsoft PowerPoint), should have a top-level heading (H1 or title) for screen readers and search engines to understand the information that follows. In most cases, you should also use one heading lower (H2) to ensure the technology can follow the sequence of the information.


Specific Headers Do Not Matter for SEO

Google does not release the rules of its algorithms and is also constantly updating them. At one time, much emphasis was placed on specific keywords appearing in the title, H1, so bloggers and marketers shifted to using H1 titles as subheaders. Then the practice shifted to a heavy focus on H1 and H2.


Currently, Google does not favor H1 over H3 in terms of keywords; however, Google and other search engines punish material whose organization does not appear to be easily understood by its bots. In reality, search engines are trying to mimic what is helpful to end users.


Quickly understanding the sequence and organization of information is what people want. Plus, search engines are simply more robust and faster than just a decade ago, so the full breadth of the information can be searched quickly without focusing on H1 or H2 headings.


Assistive Devices Need Headings

A wide range of people with visual and hearing impairments and disabilities use assistive devices. Historically, devices such as screen readers read computer screens for the visually impaired.


Today, there is a proliferation of assistive devices that help people with impairments and disabilities, as well as people just trying to understand text, images, and videos in noisy or poor-lit places (or while in a boring business meeting). Our mobile devices have certainly provided great opportunities for better understanding by all.


The one thing that stands the test of time is that any assistive device needs to understand the structure and sequence of the information. That makes the use of headings more important now than ever.


Common Heading Errors

Most of us know to use headings but underappreciate their importance. Our underappreciation leads to not using headers when we are in a hurry. These are three examples:

  • Bolding or increasing the font size of regular text in a short, written report but not using the heading format

  • Bolding or increasing the font size of regular text in a table but not using the heading format

  • Not using a formatted slide title on a PowerPoint slide, usually because more area is desired for a map or other large visual

The bottom line is to remember that assistive devices, search engine bots, and many people in your audience will not understand what the information means if you do not use a proper heading format.


Applying It

Headings are part of Structure, the fifth bone in the FINESSE fishbone (cause and effect) diagram for effective communication.


The improper use of headings is one of the top five mistakes related to accessibility and inclusion. Issues related to headings are found in reports, tables, PowerPoint slides, and websites. Regardless of medium, headings should be used in (and establish) a logical order, included with every text section or slide, be short, and contain meaningful information.

 

Founded by JD Solomon, Communicating with FINESSE is a not-for-profit community of technical professionals dedicated to being highly effective communicators and facilitators. The community's 750 Club shares special tips and pointers associated with each bone in the FINESSE fishbone (cause and effect) diagram. Learn more about our publications, webinars, and workshops. Join the community for free.

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