Needless to say, over the weeks and months we have been looking at and highlighting accessibility issues across the board. Looking at other blog posts on the DigiKnow main site will show we have covered the use of text, images, video, audio, etc., and how to improve accessibility.

This is by no means everything that needs to be done and it’s changing all the time. It’s never ending!

We believe highlighting the need to improve the accessibility of digital content will encourage content creators to put themselves in the shoes of users that require those digital add ons to be able to engage with the content.

Consider. How do your audience members need content to be designed and created which means they can engage more? Let’s see what else MS Word can do where accessibility is concerned.

In this weeks blog post, DigiKnow looks at one of MS Word’s features, the Pilcrow. If you’ve never heard of the Pilcrow before, read on.

Pilcrows and history

What the heck is a Pilcrow? Before we tell you how the Pilcrow is used today, let’s take a look back in history to learn what it was used for.

In historical texts, the texts were long and unbroken. By today’s standards, texts were hard to read. Then, the pilcrow was used at the beginning of each paragraph designating each new paragraph within the long passage of text.

Pilcrows were considered a method of marking new lines of reasoning. This was long before modern writing practices. Today, paragraphs are separated using a keyboard return and spacing. Each paragraph in today’s writing signifies a new line of thought or idea.

The word pilcrow originates from the Greek word paragraphos

Pilcrow Icon
Pilcrow Icon

The Pilcrow symbol is the funny backward “P” icon situated in the Home tab. It has also been known as:

  • paragraph mark
  • paragraph sign
  • paraph
  • alinea, or 
  • blind P

The symbol itself has taken several forms over the centuries.

Pilcrows and accessibility

Why is the pilcrow helpful?

When using MS Word and the Pilcrow is toggled on, it displays the tabs, paragraphs, spaces, page breaks and returns in the document. It shows good practice and bad where spacing is concerned.

Bad practice

  • using the spacebar to move text along a line for
    • centering headings
    • right-aligning footnotes
  • using multiple returns to get text onto the next page
  • use of multiple default tabs to line up text
  • anchoring images (these become invisible to screen readers)

Good practice

  • text alignment will place the text left, middle or right aligned
  • page or section breaks are used instead of multiple returns
  • set tabs at required increments and use one tab instead of many
  • use tables to place images and text
Aligning text

When it comes to placing content on a page in MS Word, there are plenty of formatting options and good practices to do this. Using additional spaces and returns is BAD practice.

MS Word – Bad and Good practices using spaces to align text

For multiple spaces and returns used, screen readers (i.e., JAWs or NVDA) will read space space space and/or return return return. If you were a screen reader user, imagine how annoying it would be to hear “space space space space” or “return return return returnall the time instead of the actual content.

For aligning text, please use the alignment icons as highlighted in the Good Practice image. This removes the spaces and screen reader users will get the text read out immediately.

Formatting Styles

Needless to say if the centered text is a heading, please also use Styles for formatting, as can be seen below. Again, screen readers will pick up when formatting styles are used and convey this. In the example below, a screen reader would read “Heading, Good Practice. Heading, Centering headings using alignment“.

MS Word - Heading styles
MS Word – Heading styles
Page breaks

In this section, you can compare bad and good practices of page breaks.

MS Word – Bad and Good practices using Returns and Page Breaks

A page break can finish off a section of text and gives users a fresh page for the next section of text to begin. An additional benefit of page breaks comes when changing margins. Page breaks stick exactly where they are. Whereas badly formatted documents (using returns) may well have text start before or after where it’s intended.

There are other breaks available:

  • section break
  • column break

Section breaks allows for different formatting of each section within the same document. For example, a report may be in portrait orientation but have one section in landscape orientation for graphs / tabular content, etc.

Column breaks act in a similar way to page breaks. It finishes off a columns’ text and puts the cursor at the top of the next available column for content to be added.

For tabs and tables, we will look at those more closely in the coming weeks as we investigate this more.

Next time

Our blog post next Monday will look at the Design and Output MS Word: Tabs and how this can improve accessibility.

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are now released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *