Tutorial: Adding Alt Text to Images in Microsoft Word (Page 1 of 8)

Contents

  1. Why Add Alternative Text Descriptions
  2. Adding Alt Text in Office 2010
  3. Adding Alt Text in Office 2007
  4. Adding Alt Text in Office 2003
  5. How to Describe an Image
  6. Images without Significance
  7. References
  8. Feedback

Why Add Alternative Text Descriptions?

“Alt text” is added to an image to provide a textual alternative to visual information. It is important to remember that some users won’t see your information, they’ll hear it!

According to the principles of Universal Design for Learning, information—including images—should be understandable in multiple ways. By adding an alt text to an image, you make its meaning available to people who, for whatever reason, cannot see it. Whether due to technological limitations or visual impairment, many people require a text alternative to visual information.

Adding Alternative Text in Word 2010

(The following instructions apply to Word 2010 documents saved in the .docx file format. Note that Word changes behavior when editing documents saved in the older .doc format—see Word 2003 below.)

To add an alternative text description to an image, follow these steps:

  1. Select the image (either click on the image or use the keyboard).
  2. Open the context menu using one of the following methods:
    1. Right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac) on the image.
    2. Press the Context Key (Windows) while the image is selected.
    3. Press Shift+F10 (Windows) while the image is selected.
  3. Choose “Format Picture...” from the context menu (Figure 1).
  4. Choose “Alt Text” from the left pane of the dialog box (Figure 2-a), and describe the image in the Description box (Figure 2-b). See “How to Describe an Image” in this tutorial.
Figure 1

Figure 1:  Accessing alt Text in Word 2010

To add alternative text to an image, choose Format Picture... from the context menu.

Figure 2

Figure 2:  Adding/changing alt text in Word 2010

Select “Alt Text” from the left-hand pane (a), and enter a meaningful description of the image in the “Description” box on the right (b).

Adding Alternative Text in Word 2007

(The following instructions apply to Word 2007 documents saved in the .docx file format, which debuted with that version of Office. Note that Word changes behavior when editing documents saved in the older .doc format—see Word 2003 below.)

To add an alternative text description to an image, follow these steps:

  1. Select the image (either click on the image or use the keyboard).
  2. Open the context menu using one of the following methods:
    1. Right-click (Windows) or Control-click (Mac) on the image.
    2. Press the Context Key (Windows) while the image is selected.
    3. Press Shift+F10 (Windows) while the image is selected.
  3. Choose “Size...” from the context menu (Figure 3).
  4. Choose the “Alt Text” tab from the Size dialog box (Figure 4-a), and enter your alternative text description of the image (Figure 4-b). See “How to Describe an Image” in this tutorial.
Figure 3

Figure 3:  Accessing alt Text in Word 2007

To add alternative text to an image, choose Size... from the context menu.

Figure 4

Figure 4:  Adding/changing alt text in Word 2007

Select the “Alt Text” tab, and enter a meaningful description of the image.

Adding Alternative Text in Word 2003

The following instructions apply to Word 2003 documents, as well as Word 2010 and 2007 documents saved in the "Word 97-2003 Document" or .doc file format (also called Compatibility Mode).

To add an alternative text description to an image, follow these steps:

  1. Choose View > Normal (Ctrl+Alt+N).
  2. Select the image.
  3. Right-click (Shift-F10) and choose Format Picture.
  4. Select the “Web” tab (Figure 5-a).
  5. Enter an alternative text description of the image (Figure 5-b).
Figure 5

Figure 5:  Adding Alternative Text

To add alternative text to an images, right-click on the object, choose Format > Picture, click on the “Web” tab, and enter a text description.

How to Describe an Image

Alternative text should describe the meaning of an image rather than its appearance. For example, instead of “Sign hanging on laboratory door,” tell the viewer what the image means: “Each laboratory has safety policies posted on the door.”

Each laboratory has safety policies posted on the door

Keep descriptions as short as possible. It is generally unnecessary to begin a description with “photo of” or “picture of.” If describing a chart or graph, be as complete as possible.

In addition to alternative text, captions may be used to convey visual information to all users. Images can also be described in the text of your document.

Images without Significance

Before you describe an image, you should ask yourself whether it represents a meaningful piece of information or is merely “eye candy” adorning the page. If the image is simply decorative, a description is a waste of time. Such images are routinely skipped over by readers who can see them, and users of assistive technologies will want to do the same.

In HTML insignificant images are indicated by adding a “null” or “empty” alternative text attribute to the <img> tag, for example <img alt="">. In a PDF document, such images can be tagged as “artifacts.” Unfortunately, Microsoft Office offers no means of indicating that an image should be ignored, so it is best to simply leave decorative images alone. All other images should be described with alt text.

More Information For more information about alternative text in HTML and Adobe PDF, see the following:

References

Accessible Digital Media: Design Guidelines
The definitive guide from the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) offers everything you wanted to know and more.
Appropriate Use of Alternative Text
Another resource from WebAIM, this document describes the finer points of using alternative text.
Alt Text Blunders
Yet another WebAIM resource, this document provides some rather amusing examples of the pitfalls of image description. (A subsection of “Web Accessibility Gone Wild, Now even wilder!”)
Creating Effective Alternative (Alt) Text
A comprehensive guide from WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind).
How to Create Descriptive Text for Graphs, Charts & other Diagrams
A Descriptive Text Tutorial Web Accessibility Tutorial for Creating Descriptive Text for Diagrams, Charts & Other Graphics from the Center on Education and Work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Research-Based Guidelines on Web Design and Usability Issues
Guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Includes a clear discussion of alternative text.
Text Alternatives for Images (alt-text)
One section of a 10-section tutorial by Jim Thatcher on web accessibility that clearly explains many image labeling issues.

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