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Tagging Lists in MS Word & PowerPoint

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Lists (often referred-to as “bullets,” or if enumerated, “ordered lists”) provide a vital means of grouping and organizing content. Lists provide users will the following four functions (presented here in an “unordered list”):

  • Identifies a set of content with the property of being a list (i.e., as opposed to simple paragraphs of text)
  • Clearly distinguishes each item in the list from others, which makes it easy to know the number of items in the list
  • Provides an explicit means of describing, in an accessible fashion, a hierarchy of list items (nested lists)
  • Allows for the application of list labels or other styling to enumerate or provide visual cues about the list

To be accessible in PDF files, list tags (<L>, <LI>, and the optional <Lbl> and <Lbody> tags) must reflect the page content. Ideally, this would always happen automatically when the PDF file is created. In practice, there are many ways to damage a list structure in MS Word (and other authoring programs) in a way that’s hard to notice until you look at the tags. Consequently, lists much be checked in the following order to ensure accessibility (presented here in an “ordered list”:

  1. Each <LI> tag must fully enclose its content. It’s not uncommon to find lines of text tagged <LI> even when some or all list items in the list wrap more than one line
  2. Each list item on the PDF page is represented by a <LI> tag
  3. Nested lists are accurately reflected in the tag-tree’s structure

The following example shows two common types of errors. Microsoft’s built-in accessibility checker doesn’t check or warn you of these problem lists, but CommonLook Office provides a systematic means of checking and correcting any list!

The Page Content  Extra <LI> Tag  Missing <LI> Tag  Correct Tags 
list-good-highlighted error-extra-tag error-missing-tag good-tags

4 top-level list items, the 3rd list item includes a nested list of 2 items 

3rd list item is split across 2 <LI> tags Only 3 list items tagged; the 4th has been tagged as a paragraph The tags correctly reflect the page content.

EFFECT: The list, items and structure are clearly identified for visual users. 

AT EFFECT: The list appears as 5 items, 2 make no sense. AT EFFECT: The list appears as 3 items. A paragraph trails, but isn’t associated with the list. AT EFFECT: The list items and structure are clearly

Checking List Structure with CommonLook Office for MS Word and PowerPoint

  1. CL-2
    CL-1
    Open the Word file, select “Create CommonLook PDF” from the CommonLook Office ribbon
  2. From the All Checkpoints tab, select the Lists checkpoint, then change to the Current Checkpoint tab
  3. Each of the lists in the file is presented. Select any list to highlight it on the page; open it to view the structure
  4. Verify that the list’s structure displayed in CommonLook Office matches the list as it appears on the page
  5. If it doesn’t match, edit the list and re-run the checkpoint
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