Importance of Headings

Headings provide an outlined structure to your content. They help guide people through your content by identifying the topic and sub-topics of the information.

Headings start at heading level 1 and progress down to heading level 6. Heading level 2 is a subtopic of heading level 1. Each child heading is a subtopic of its previous parent heading. These heading levels display the hierarchy of content. This hierarchy allows people to understand the outline and structure of the content.

Headings need to be appropriately formatted as heading styles for headings to be accessible within digital content and technology. Programs and assistive technologies can display the formatted headings to outline the content structure. Additionally, assistive technology allows people to navigate to, and scan through, the content by the headings.

Example showing the different style of heading levels from heading level 1 to 6.
A sample outline using the heading levels with 1 heading level 1, two heading level 2, 4 heading level 3, and 1 heading level 4.
Two heading level 2s are a subtopic of heading level 1, four heading level 3s are subtopics of their previous heading level 2, and one heading level 4 is a subtopic of its previous heading level 3.

Common Errors

These common errors hinder the accessibility and usability of digital content.

  • Missing heading level 1.
  • Text that looks like a heading, such as bold text, but isn’t properly formatted as a heading.
  • Headings used for their appearance rather than their purpose in the structure of the content.
  • No heading structure within the digital content.

Best Practices 

Follow these best practices to improve the accessibility and usability of headings in your digital content.

  • Use an application’s formatting tools or apply HTML tags to properly format headings.
  • Use only one heading level 1. Each webpage or electronic document should have one heading level 1 that represents the main topic of the digital document.  
  • Use a hierarchical sequence of headings. Headings provide an outline of your content. It allows people to navigate to the information they seek by scanning the web page or digital document or using assistive technology to extract the headings or navigate by headings. 
  • Do not skip down in heading levels.
    For example, you wouldn’t skip down from a heading level 2 to a heading level 4.
  • Provide short descriptive headings. Descriptive headings provide people with the information needed to scan and navigate to the information they seek.
  • Avoid manually styling text with bold or italics to indicate a heading.
  • Remove empty headings. People using assistive technology will be alerted to empty headings, which could be confusing.

Accessibility Checks 

Use this checklist as a guide to ensure your headings are in an accessible format.