We all like to peruse a document in different ways, whether it’s simply reading from front cover to back cover, scanning a table of contents to pull out the pertinent sections, or hitting the executive summary and leaving things there. This is something we should remember when creating our documents as well, so adding as many navigation options as possible increases the ease of readability for all end users.
The content below will look at a range of navigation options you can use in your non-web documents, and while some of them will be dependent on what’s in your content, keep in mind the more options you have, the more accessible your document.
Table of contents
A table of contents (TOC) is an obvious start point and commonly used for longer documents that are divided into chapters or sections. By assigning appropriate heading structure in a Word document or creating a paragraph style in InDesign (for a PDF), a TOC can automatically be created and placed at the front of the document. The TOC listings will link to the appropriate page in one click or keystroke.
Better still, if the caption function has been used in Word for content such as pie charts or data tables, those captions can be used to create a TOC for the explicit content required. For example, you can create a TOC for all pie charts within your document.
Another commonly used navigation tool in documents is bookmarks. To create a PDF with bookmarks, you can choose to use the existing heading structure as your bookmarks or manually assign bookmarks from the content that may not be headings. Once the PDF is created, ensure the page view on opening is set to Bookmarks Panel and Page for a quick reference with links to your bookmarks.
Alternative text of images
This form of navigation is a handy one for screen reader users. By adding alternative text to your images, not only are you providing a spoken description of important visual information, but also creating a navigation option via keyboard shortcuts. A list of all alt texts can be displayed to the end user and by arrowing through the list, alt text is announced for each image and, if required, the user can be taken to that image in one keystroke.
Links and references
Links and references simply embody all types of hyperlinks in our documents. Outside of automatically-created links from the insertion of a table of contents or bookmark panel, hyperlinks can take the form of a bookmark or a cross-reference to a range of references (headings, captions, footnotes, numbered items, for example) within the document. A hyperlink can also take the end user to a separate, external document or open a webpage. External links can add complementary information to our own content without adding bulk or file size to the document.
One final thing to remember when adding all types of navigation is to ensure it’s available to the end user. By saving your Word document with the navigation pane visible, displaying the bookmarks pane on opening a PDF, and providing brief and clear alt text of images, you not only cover all bases when it comes to different ways we like to read a document, but increase its accessibility to engage people of all abilities.