Note: Creating structured documents is an essential accessibility skill. It is relevant to everybody and can save you and your readers a lot of time and effort. Do not skip this!

About this series

This is the third in a four-part series on structured documents.

You can see the outline of the whole series in this MindMap.

About this part

Last time, you learned all the basics of working with structured documents in Word. In this part, we will learn more tips and tricks to get really proficient at structured documents and styles in Microsoft Word. Specifically, we will look at:

  • How to make structured PDFs from structured Word documents
  • How to modify style template formatting
  • Advanced structured documents tips
    • How to choose the top level Heading 1 or 2
    • How and why to avoid empty lines
    • How and why to show hidden characters
    • Advanced keyboard shortcuts to make structured documents even faster

Structured PDFs

So you’ve made a structured document in Word. And you want to make a PDF out of it. It is very easy, if you:

  • Use Save As PDF
  • Do NOT print to PDF

Since version 2010, Microsoft Word included an option to save your document as PDF. In version 2007, you could install a free plugin that did the same thing.

You can find the details of how to save structured PDFs in a post from last year. In short:

  1. In the Save As window, choose PDF from the Save as type field

Click on Options and then tick Create bookmarks using Headings

Your PDF will now have a clickable table of contents and a side navigation.

Modify style formatting

You should never choose the level of your outline based on the formatting of the style. For instance, you think the formatting of the Heading 3 style is better, so you skip Heading 2 in your outline. This makes the document less accessible for blind people and more difficult to navigate for everyone.

Instead, you should change the formatting template of the style. This is extremely easy to do in two steps:

  1. Right-click on the style name and choose Modify

2. Choose font formatting like size, type face, colour, weight and paragraph settings like alignment, paragraph spacing, indentation and space before

Once you click OK, the formatting of all the paragraphs marked with the style will change to suit your needs.

This is also extremely useful when you want to change the font size or colour of all headings at a certain level when you’ve finished a long document.

You can change many more formatting options (including borders, tab settings and advanced paragraph settings) if you use the Format button at the left-hand bottom corner of the Modify style window

Clear formatting

Every paragraph in your document has some style by default. If you just format the paragraph, you do not change the style. If you want to remove all formatting that is not in the paragraph style, you can press the Clear formatting button which will return all selected text to the basic formatting defined in the style.

You can also use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-space. This will apply only to font formatting. If you also want to clear all paragraph formatting you need to press Ctrl-Q.

Advanced tips and tricks

Heading 1 or Heading 2 and other outline tips

If you download the Word documents I use to create these posts, you may notice that the title is the top level in the outline and marked as Heading 1. All the section headings are then marked as Heading 2.

This is because when the document is copied onto a web page, the title of the page is already marked as Heading 1. This is done because of accessibility for blind people.

Also, I am planning to compile the documents into one big file at the end, so each file will serve as a chapter which should be marked with Heading 1.

But if you are not in either of these scenarios, you should choose Heading 1 as the top level of your outline and the Title or Normal style for your title. It has many advantages. For instance, your table of contents won’t include the title of your document.

How and why avoid empty lines

If they need more space before a heading, many people simply click to the start of the line and press enter several times. If the heading is marked with a Heading style, this will create another empty heading. This will then create empty spaces in your outline and your table of contents.

There are three ways to avoid this problem.

  1. Change the style of the empty line to Normal
  2. Press enter at the end of the final line of the preceding paragraph (unless it is also a heading
  3. Change the formatting of the Heading style to include more space before or after

The third option is the best because it will let you control how much space is before your headings consistently in a long document.

You can do it in two ways:

1. Use the paragraph spacing buttons in the formatting section of the Modify Style window

2. Use the Format button and choose Paragraph. In the spacing section, choose the exact values. 1 line = 12 pt

This is also a great trick to reduce the page count in a long document. Instead of inserting empty lines between paragraphs, define the Normal style to have space of 6pt (half a line) before or after. In a long document, reducing it to 5pt can save a page without reducing readability.

Showing hidden characters

Sometimes, a document contains empty lines that are hard to track down. You can reveal them by pressing the ‘Show hidden characters’ icon in the Home tab.

This will show the  character at the end of every paragraph. Spaces are marked with a dot ( . ) which makes it easy to fix accidental double space.

Note: These hidden characters will not print even, if they are turned on.

When I’m reviewing a long document, I always turn on hidden characters to make sure I catch formatting inconsistencies.

Use keyboard shortcuts for outlines

Last time, we learned that you can save even more time by typing Ctrl-Alt-1, 2 or 3 to set the style of Heading 1, 2, 3.

But there is an even more useful keyboard shortcut for managing the outline.

Simply by pressing Alt-Shift+Left/Right Arrow key you will move the heading one level up or down in the outline.

So, if your current heading is Heading 1, pressing the shortcut with the Right Arrow, will move it to Heading 2.

Even more usefully, if you are in a Normal paragraph, pressing Alt-Shift+Left Arrow key will set it to the same Heading as the previous heading in the outline. This saves you scrolling back or always remembering which level you are at.

Pressing Alt-Shift+Right Arrow in a Normal paragraph will set it to a heading 1 level below in the outline from the previous heading.

Read more about keyboard shortcuts or watch this video to help you with typing them properly.

Next time

In the next part, we will look at structured documents in other word processors.

Dominik Lukes - Education and Technology Specialist