Introduction to Writing Alt-text for Digital Media (other than ebooks)

Images used on websites, social media, and other non-book content need image descriptions. The writing guidelines are mostly the same, but there are a few additional things to consider. This Introduction document looks at these, and also includes links to including alt-text on some social media platforms.

  • Subject(s):

    Digital Marketing, Image Descriptions

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Suggested Prerequisites

Before reading this, you might want to read:

Alt-Text for Other Digital Media

When it comes to writing alt-text for digital content other than images in ebooks, there are a few additional recommendations. You’ll still want to heed the general guidelines for image descriptions, which are:

  1. Describe all non-decorative images.
  2. Structure your descriptions by describing the “big picture” first, then focusing in on details.
  3. Match the tone and voice of the description to the context.
  4. Consider your audience.
  5. Be clear and concise.
  6. Use present tense and active voice.
  7. Be objective.
  8. Don’t censor.
  9. When images are of text, include all text in the description.

For social media and other non-book digital content,  there are just a few additional considerations:

  1. Unless it is for a website (and can therefore use code to “hide” decorative images from screen readers), even decorative images should have alt-text, even if it is very brief. Screen readers will announce when there is an image, so alt-text is required for all images on social media. 
  2. Be concise, but consider the context of the platform you are using. For example, Twitter is designed around being quick and bite-sized; in this case, brevity is key. But, when you consider Instagram, which is designed around photo-sharing, longer more descriptive alt-text may be ideal, since users visit Instagram with the expectation that the images are the focus.

Next Steps


Reviewing Image Descriptions

Guide for Reviewing Image Descriptions

This guide shares a short checklist of items to review when reading or editing image descriptions. Whether you wrote them yourself, or someone else wrote them, this guide will help ensure the quality of descriptions.

Subject(s): Digital Marketing, Ebook Production, Image Descriptions, Website Accessibility
Resource Type(s): Checklist, Standards and Best Practices

Writing Descriptions for Complex Content

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External Links to More Information

Guide to Image Descriptions

A thorough introduction to image descriptions; it discusses: the importance of image descriptions, workflow considerations, and terminology; it also provides some technical guidance and code samples, and of course provides detailed image description guidelines, with examples!

How to Write an Image Description

This article gives ideas for writing image descriptions. It uses an “object-action-context” order to provide details in a logical way. It also includes some more suggestions for when to describe race and gender, and breaking more complex image descriptions into sections.

AFB’s Social Media Accessibility Guidelines

Provides tips to make social media accessible to low vision and blind users, including using CamelCase on words in hashtags and URLs; providing image descriptions; and providing captions, video descriptions and transcripts for video.

Social Media Accessibility Guidelines

This page from Princeton University gives some guidelines for making social media posts more accessible. It covers alternative text for images, video captions, animated GIFs, using mixed case for hashtags so they will be read properly by screen readers, and use of emojis and emoticons.

Planning, creating and publishing accessible social media campaigns

This guide outlines the key steps that people can take to create social media campaigns that meet the accessibility standards. It’s been designed to be quick and simple to adopt, and it includes paths to further learning, and downloadable templates you can use!

Digital Accessibility: Use Plain Language

This short webpage explains how plain language benefits all users, including people with cognitive disabilities, low reading literacy, and people who are encountering an unknown topic or language. Using plain language enhances the accessibility of a content for all readers!

Content Source Acknowledgement