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Heading Structure

How to correct the heading structure for an accessible PDF in Word, InDesign, or Acrobat.

This article applies to: Web Accessibility

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What You Need to Know About Headings

Headings allow screen reader users to read only the headings in order to get an overview of the content and to navigate directly to the part they want to read. Headings should follow a logical structure H1 – H6.

  • Headings are the titles of each section in your document.
  • Headings create an outline structure for your document.
  • Every document must have a heading level 1, which is often the title of the document.
  • Every subheading should use the next heading level in the sequence.
  • Sibling headings must have identical heading levels.
  • A document must not have subheadings which are at a higher or identical level to its parent.
  • Headings can also act as Bookmarks.
Best Practice: Do not skip heading levels! For example, do not jump from H2 to H4. Skipping levels can make the screen reader user wonder whether there is missing content on your page.


H1: Links, Headings, Images, Oh My!

H2: Overview

H3: Terminology

H3: Icons

H2: Accessibility Standards

H3: Links

H3: Headings

H4: Order

H4: Headings and Screen Readers

H4: How Headings Help Users with Cognitive Disabilities

H3: Images

H4: Alternative Text

H4: Charts and Graphs

H2: Conclusion


  1. Select your heading text.

  2. On the Home tab, in the Styles group, select a heading style, for example, Heading 1 or Heading 2.

If you are working on a PC, you will need to take a couple of additional steps in order to ensure that your headings are tagged in your web accessible PDF.
  • If you have the Acrobat tab with the PDF Maker:
    1. Select Preferences.
    2. Choose the Heading Levels to Convert.
  • Alternatively:
    1. Select Save As
    2. Select PDF.
    3. Under Options, select Convert Word Headings to Bookmarks.


LinkedIn Learning video on Understanding InDesign styles.

Adobe Acrobat

  1. Select the TouchUp Reading Order Tool.
  2. If the element is not tagged, use the mouse to select the entire element.
Tip: Drag your mouse over a larger area than the text you are selecting.
  1. Right click or Ctrl click on the element.
  2. Select Tag as Heading for the level you want. (Mac users may not see Tag as Heading, but will be able to select the appropriate heading level.)


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