Academic Styles

At first glance, the steps to make a Word document accessible appear to conflict with the steps to apply an academic style such as APA (American Psychological Association) or MLA (Modern Language Association). Your paper was neatly formatted with, say, black double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman text throughout, until you apply a Word Heading Style. Now your heading is the wrong color, the wrong size, the wrong spacing, and the wrong font!

Word Styles are important to accessibility because of how they structure your document. Word Styles add meta-data to your document that can help all of your students (and you) better navigate and understand your document. How those styles look -- color, font, etc. -- is irrelevant. (See note.)

Word offers a few different ways to format a document that is both accessible and within academic style guidelines. One straightforward method follows, but contact the Universal Design Center (UDC) if you'd like to explore this topic further. 


  1. Format your document according to the appropriate academic style (APA, MLA, etc.).
  2. Place the cursor in the paper's title.
  3. In Word's Styles pane, right-click (Mac: control-click) and select "Update Heading 1 to Match Selection." 
  4. Move the cursor to the first chapter or section heading, such as Abstract or Introduction. 
  5. In the Styles pane, right-click and select "Update Heading 2 to Match Selection."
  6. Now you can apply Heading 2 to the rest of your chapter or major section headings, and the font, color, etc., will reflect your original formatting.
  7. To watch your document's structure as it's built, go to the View tab and check Navigation Pane. (On Macs, select the icon that looks like a bulleted list [Document Map].)
  8. Repeat as needed for sub-headings, the table of contents, etc. 
  9. If you anticipate more revisions to this document, place the cursor in any paragraph, right-click in the Styles pane on Normal, and update the Normal style to match as well. 


More information

Note: Color, font, etc., don't affect the structure of the document, and academic styles like APA and MLA comply with other accessibility guidelines. If you are designing your own style, apply other guidelines such as using a legible font, text color with sufficient contrast to the background color, etc.