How You Write Is as Important as What You Write
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The “How” of writing is, in general, a much more fluid topic than you would think. Your process may focus on sketching out a rough draft, or it may be a detailed outline. Your approach may even be to start writing and hope everything works out. There is no wrong way to approach the content of your article. However, we will discuss the final form and function of the piece you have created. Improving the structure of your work will drive engagement and allow you to reach people that have accessibility issues.
Writing for the web is different than just writing. The editor you use when posting a new post has a similar feel to your favorite text editor, but that is merely a façade. In truth, the editor is taking in what you are typing and using that information to generate HTML code.
Next time you are working on a new post, feel free to click the Text button in the top right of the editor to get a look under the hood. That information is invisible when viewing your article via a monitor. Still, it is how both screenreaders and search engines read our websites.
Using programs like Microsoft Word, copying over information can often bring in unneeded information to preserve your formatting. Resolve this by right-clicking and choosing the Paste and Match Style option when pasting the text into the editor on your site. Then format the post using the tools the editor provides.
Text Alongside Images
Our N.C. Cooperative Extension Agents have a wealth of creativity. The image resources and flyers they create are lovely, colorful and informative. However, these works are not accessible to people with visual disabilities. The text on the images is not readable by screen readers, making the information functionally unreachable. Without properly contrasting colors, the document may be difficult to understand.
Please keep making excellent image resources. However, make sure to include the text in the body of the article as well. Body text ensures the resource will be accessible to everyone. Following our general guidelines will ensure that your post has higher accessibility. The guidelines will not just allow users to access your hard work. They will also help your ranking in search engines, once again driving engagement to your work.
Meaningful Alt text
Images convey emotions, tone and information to your reader. Regardless of your intent for the picture, it gives the user context for the post. Alt text is descriptive text that must accompany images on web pages. While sighted users will not see the text attached to the image, it allows users with visual disabilities to use a screen reader to access the content. The alt text you include should provide the same information you’re intending to convey with the image. Keep context in mind when generating your Alt text. The same image can have multiple meanings depending on its appended article. Take, for instance, the image below.
On an article regarding invasive species in flowerbeds, this alt text might be:
“A person using a cultivator to remove weeds from a flowerbed.”
Or on an article about local volunteer work, this may read:
“A volunteer is preparing a raised bed for planting flowers.”
While the image is the same, the Alt texts give different contexts to their containing articles.
Check out our article Why ALT Text for an Image Is Important for more details.
Intentional Use of Headlines
A road with no signs is challenging to navigate. While you create your post, you may intentionally or unintentionally add visual signposts that let the reader know where to read next. These can be indentions, paragraph breaks and more. While some of these will convey over to the screen reader, laying out a map of your post is much more meaningful. Nesting headlines act as signs for your readers to follow.
Check out our article How and When to Use Headings for more information.
Formatting with intent makes a big difference on the web. Your content’s accessibility depends on being mindful of practices that affect everyone viewing it. As someone who helps create content for the web, one of my biggest fears is that someone will miss out on an opportunity due to a failing on my end. I understand that this will take more time and effort. Still, your content will be available for years. A few minutes of action will create a more accessible and inclusive site.