Presenting a “wall of text” in a document or website can discourage reading. Instead, present key concepts as lists where possible.
Lists help users comprehend text more quickly. Writers can use them to reduce reader fatigue resulting from trying to comprehend dense or complex paragraphs. Lists can provide a break in the document flow and encourage users to stick with the content.
Dos and Don'ts
Use Lists to Facilitate Scanning
Use lists to:
- Present key terms and concepts
- Organize information into meaningful chunks
- Convey sequencing necessary for processes and procedures
- Create links to additional information
Write parallel list items that have the same structure.
Don't use list formatting just to draw attention to an item. Lists should always contain list items.
Don't format unlike items as a list unless you rewrite them so they have the same structure.
Format Lists Correctly
If you don't format your lists correctly, adaptive technology users won't be able to identify the text as a list.
Use the list or paragraph formatting options in your document or presentation software or HTML list tags on a webpage.
Use a bulleted list to show a list of related items.
Use a numbered list to show steps in a process or the number of parts in a whole.
Add space between each list item using the paragraph formatting tools in your software or CSS on a webpage.
Don't create lists manually by simply inserting numbers, characters, images, or other symbols before list items and then indenting the item text.
Don't add extra carriage returns after list items, because that will add unnecessary code to your document or webpage.
Structure Long Lists
Although screen readers can detect bulleted (unordered) lists, they do not usually distinguish levels of indentation.
Use an ordered list with a different numbering system in the secondary levels than in the primary levels to help users distinguish between them.
Try to structure your long lists into smaller lists separated by headings.
Don’t nest lists, if one is not needed.
Don’t use the same bullet type in nested lists.
Avoid listing too many items in a long list.
Use Standard Bullets
Replacing the generic bullet characters provided by MS Office and Google Suite products (e.g., circles and squares) with custom characters could result in an image being included without alt text or in a screen reader interpreting a character by its ASCII value.
On websites, you can replace standard bullets with custom images using CSS. However, the bullet will be read by a screen reader as if it were unstyled.
Use the standard bullets provided by your software's list or paragraph formatting options.
Don’t use custom bullets as they are announced to screen reader users with unidentified names.