CommonLook Office Quick Start Guide for MS Word

Welcome to the CommonLook Office Quick Start Guide for MS Word. This tutorial is intended to help you become familiar with the main features and primary operation of CommonLook Office.

Used in conjunction with its accompanying sample document, this guide will take you step by step through the process of using CommonLook Office to create an accessible and standard-compliant PDF from the original MS Word document.  During the process, many accessibility issues typically found in Word documents will be addressed and fixed.

Although this guide addresses many accessibility issues common in Word documents, it’s not meant to be an all-inclusive guide for using Microsoft Word. For more information, or to become more familiar with Microsoft Word and/or CommonLook Office, please contact your account executive or email us at  We’d be happy to discuss the various training options.

In addition, this guide assumes that CommonLook Office is properly installed and registered on your computer.  If you don’t have CommonLook Office on your machine, please contact your account executive or send an email to   For help with installation or registration, send an email to

Important:  In this guide, the term "CommonLook" may be used to refer to the CommonLook Office software.

Let’s Get Started!

This Quick Start Tutorial uses the CommonLook Office software along with the CommonLook Office Quick Start Document. If you have not already done so, download the Quick Start Document (MS Word file).  Once downloaded, we recommend you make a copy of the Word document and work on that copy.

To begin using CommonLook Office follow these steps:

  1. Open the working copy of the Quick Start Document in Microsoft Word. (Once open, you may need to Enable Editing in Word.)
  2. In the toolbar in Word, select the tab labeled CommonLook Office.
    The CommonLook Office tab in the Microsoft Word ribbon
  3. In the CommonLook Office ribbon there are various options for help and preferences.  Select “Create CommonLook PDF,” to open the CommonLook Office software.
    The Create CommonLook PDF button on the Ribbon in CommonLook Office in Word.
  4. CommonLook Office will open and ask you to select a compliance standard.
    1. To follow the steps in this guide, select WCAG 2.0 (also the Revised Section 508 as of 2017).
    2. Use the OK button to continue, select “Cancel” if you don’t wish to proceed.
      Selecting the standard for compliance, in this case WCAG 2.0 (the revised Section 508 - 2017). Other choices are PDF/UA, HHS, and Section 508 (2001 regulations).

The “Current Checkpoint” Tab

When CommonLook Office opens, the document is displayed in a panel on the left side of the screen (also referred to as the Physical View in this guide) and the checkpoints panels are on the right. By default, CommonLook Office opens in the Current Checkpoint tab, stopping on the first checkpoint that is identified as having an issue or needing manual verification.

Screenshot of the Current Checkpoint tab in CommonLook Office.

The “All Checkpoints” Tab

To the left of the “Current Checkpoint” tab is the “All Checkpoints” tab.  (Optional): Selecting this tab shows all of the checkpoints for the chosen standard (in this case WCAG 2.0).  Not every checkpoint will be relevant for every document.  The checkpoints that are in bold are those that either CommonLook Office has found an issue with or they require manual verification.  Checkpoints that don’t present any issues will not be in bold and will also say “Not Applicable” in parentheses.

The "All Checkpionts" tab in CommonLook Office. In the All checkpoints panel, two bolded checkpoints and two others, not in bold and with "Not Applicable" in parentheses, are highlighted.

Additional Information about Each Checkpoint

Above the Checkpoints panels is a yellow box that provides the Standard and Checkpoint name along with an explanation of what the checkpoint is addressing. In addition, there’s a link, labeled “More” that provides in-depth information about the checkpoint, its purpose, and instructions on how to handle it, along with where the checkpoint can be found in the various standards.

The yellow box with checkpoint information and the "More" link in CommonLook Office.

Images and Other Graphical Content

Note:  If you navigated to the “All Checkpoints” tab in the previous section, return to the “Current Checkpoint” tab to proceed through this guide.

In the sample document, the first checkpoint that CommonLook Office stops on is for images and “non-text content” because images and graphics have been detected in the Word document.  (Use the “More” link to learn why Alternative text is important and what it’s used for.)

Listed in the “Current Checkpoint” panel are two images that don’t have Alternative Text.

  1. To fix the first issue, associated with the CommonLook logo, navigate to the Textual Description field and provide an appropriate description for the image. In this case “the CommonLook logo” will be sufficient.  (Tip:  Because, originally, there was no Alternative text assigned to the image, the checkbox below the “Textual Description” box, labeled “No textual description required (etc.)”, was checked.  Leaving this box checked will untag (or “artifact”) the image in the PDF, and it will not be identified by assistive technology.  When a textual description of the image is entered, this checkbox becomes unchecked.
    Screenshot of the Non-Text Content panel in CommonLook Office. The Textual Description box, where users input Alt text, is highlighted as is the checkbox to artifact images that are used for presentation purposes only.
  2. Proceed to the next issue by selecting the “Next Task” button at the bottom of the Checkpoints panel.
    Screenshot of the CommonLook Office panel with the button for "Next Task" highlighted.
  3. The second image (the chart) is now identified in the physical view and in the CommonLook Office panel.
    Because the chart contains a lot of information, this graphic will require a more detailed alternative text description than the first example did.  Copy or type the following into the Textual Description field:
    “Chart showing the growth of PDF use online, in Millions of Files, from 2011 to 2012 as measured by Google. PDF use has grown from 400 million to 1.5 billion files online, far outpacing the other indicated formats – SWF, DOC, PPT, and XLS.”
    Disclaimer:  The Alt text provided above is a suggestion.  Length, quality, and actual descriptiveness of the Alt text is up to the author, subject matter expert, or remediator.
  4. Below the checkpoint panel, next to “Task”, use the arrow to the right of “Applicable Checkpoint” to proceed to the next checkpoint in the document that needs to be addressed.
    Screenshot showing the Next Task and Next Applicable Checkpoint buttons. The arrow for Next Applicable Checkpoint is highlighted.

Tip:  If there had been Alt text assigned to the images in the document, this checkpoint would still open because CommonLook Office wants you to verify that the Alt text is accurate for the images.  This is controlled by a default setting in CommonLook that can be changed but we recommend you keep the default.


The purpose of this checkpoint is to manually verify that lists have been constructed correctly in Word so that they’ll be tagged correctly in the PDF. Common errors that are made when creating lists in Word include not using Word’s list functionality and/or breaking what should be one list into multiple lists.

When the checkpoint opens, the CommonLook Office panel will display the lists that are in the Word document (where images were identified in the previous checkpoint).  Follow these steps to verify that lists are assembled correctly:

  1. In the CommonLook Office panel, select the first List and then expand it either by clicking on the plus (+) sign or by pressing the right-arrow on your keyboard.  This will expose all of the List Items inside that List.
    Screenshot of the Lists in CommonLook Office. The first list in the panel is expanded to show the List Items inside.
  2. Select each “List Item” with the mouse or the down-arrow on your keyboard to verify that the proper content is highlighted in the Physical View.
    Screenshot of the List checkpoint showing the first list's tree expanded, the first List Item selected, and that list item is also highlighted in the physical view.

Upon examination, we find that the first list is, in fact, assembled correctly.  Select “Next Task” to continue on, verifying the second and third lists in the document as well.  (Alternatively, you can just continue navigating down through the lists in the CommonLook panel.  You don’t have to use “Next Task” to proceed through the checkpoint.)
There’s a problem with the construction of the third list.  We’ll address that next.

Fixing the third list:

The Problem:

The problem with the third list is that while, in the Physical View of the document it appears as a list of three items containing a nested list of two related items (under the second “main” list item), in the tagging, as revealed by CommonLook Office, it will be marked as a list of only two items (including the nested list under the second “main” item).  Item three is not highlighted when the list is selected in the CommonLook Office panel.

Screenshot of the List checkpoint in CommonLook Office revealing that, in the third list, its third list item was not formatted correctly and will be excluded from the tagging of the list.

Opening the third list in CommonLook Office reveals how this list will be tagged.  Select the third list in the CommonLook Office panel and expand all the collapsed nodes like you’ve expanded the other lists prior to this one.

Screenshot of the CommonLook Office panel with the third list fully expanded to reveal the nested list and its two list items.

The Solution:

  1. In the Word document, place the cursor in front of the word “Item” for list item three.  (If you’re using your mouse, you can just click in the Physical View for this step.  If you’re using keyboard navigation, you’ll have to go to the ribbon, choose “Close and Return to Word” and then navigate to this list in the Word document.)
    Screenshot showing where to place the cursor, in front of "Item" in list item 3.
  2. Press “Backspace” (on the keyboard) until “Item 3” is on the same line as “b.  Item 2-b”.
    Screenshot showing Item 2-b and Item 3 on the same line.
  3. Press “Enter” on the keyboard.  “Item 3” will now be listed as a third nested list item under number 2.
    Screenshot showing Item 3 listed underneath and as a sibling to Item 2-b.
  4. While holding down the “Shift” key on the Keyboard, press the “Tab” key.  This will move “Item 3” out one level in the “Parent List” and create the proper nesting.  (At this point it will appear as though you’re right back where you started.  The difference is that now the list functionality in Word is being used correctly and the list will be tagged correctly in the PDF.)
    Screenshot of the fixed list showing Item 3 at the correct level in the list.
  5. In the CommonLook Office panel, below the lists, select the “Reload” button.  This will reload the List checkpoint.
    The Reload button in CommonLook Office.
  6. Select and open the third list in the CommonLook Office panel to verify that the list and the nested sub-list have been assembled correctly.
    Screenshot of the List in Word and in Commonlook, now properly assembled.
  7. Because this was the last list to work with, choose “Next Applicable Checkpoint” to continue.


After checking the lists, CommonLook Office stops on the Data Tables checkpoint.  There are three tables identified in this document and all will need some attention.

Presentation Tables

Table 1, listed in the CommonLook panel, identifies a section in the Word document where the author used a table to format the text into two columns.  This is not a good authoring practice; a better way would have been to use the column functionality in Word.  However, in CommonLook Office, we can “linearize” the table so that, in the resulting PDF, there won’t be a Table tag (or its children).  The data cells, containing the content, will be converted to Paragraph tags in the PDF.

(For more information on why this is a poor authoring choice, follow the “More” link in CommonLook Office.)

To resolve this issue, follow these steps:

  1. Select “Table 1” in the CommonLook panel.
  2. In the “Select Table Type” window, choose the first option, “Presentation.”
    Screenshot of the Tables checkpoint in CommonLook Office. The first table in the list is selected and the "Presentation" type is highlighted.
  3. Because the text in the left column should be read before the right column, select the radio button to “Linearize Table Vertically.”
    Screenshot with the Linearize Table Vertically option highlighted in CommonLook Office.
  4. Choose “Next Task” (or select Table 2 in the CommonLook panel) to proceed to the second table.

Simple Data Tables

Data tables need to have their header cells identified as either column or row headers so that screen readers can associate the data in the table with the correct headers.  Unfortunately, MS Word does not provide this functionality for its data tables.  CommonLook Office, however, will allow you to correctly mark header cells in the PDF as headers, with the correct scope, so that the tables are compliant with accessibility standards.

To address the second table, follow these steps below:

  1. Select “Table 2” in the CommonLook panel (if it’s not already selected). Notice that this table only contains column header cells (no row headers are present).
  2. In the “Select Table Type” panel, choose the second option, “Column Headers.”
    Screenshot showing the second table selected in the CommonLook Office panel, the corresponding table is highligted in the physical view, and the "Column Headers" table type is selected.
  3. (Optional) Below the Table Type selection, provide a Summary. For more information on why you might include a Table Summary, follow the “More” link above the Current Checkpoint tab.
  4. The top row in the table contains the column headers “Quantity” and “Price.”  Because these are the only column headers in the table, In the field labeled “Rows of Column Headers”, set that value to “1.”
    Screenshot showing the data table highlighted in the physical view and the "Rows with Column Headers" option set to 1.
  5. Proceed to the third table.

Complex Tables

The process to fix the third table is very similar to fixing the second table with the addition of row headers and more than one row of column headers.

  1. If you haven’t already done so, select “Table 3” in the CommonLook Office panel.
  2. Choose the table type “Column and Row Headers.”
    Screenshot of the CommonLook Office panel on the Data Table checkpoint with the third table in the list selected and the table type "Column and Row Headers" highlighted.
  3. (Optional) Input a table Summary. Again, refer to the information in the “More” link for more information about table summaries.
  4. In the Physical View of the table, we notice that the top three rows contain column headers.  In CommonLook, set the value in the box next to “Rows with Column Headers” to “3.”
    Screenshot showing the three rows of column headers highlighted in the table in the physical view and the "Rows with Column Headers" option set to 3.
  5. There are two columns of cells containing row headers.  In CommonLook, set the value in the box next to “Columns with Row Headers” to “2.”
    Screenshot showing the two columns of row headers highlighted in the table in the physical view and the "Columns with Row Headers" option set to 2.
  6. Choose “Next Applicable Checkpoint” to proceed through the document.

Color Use

The next checkpoint, after working with the Data Tables, is the color checkpoint.  CommonLook Office has detected color on pages 2, 3, and 4.  This checkpoint is asking us to verify that color is not the only way that information is being conveyed (and to fix issues that we notice).

In this sample document, on Page 2, there’s a list that contains “good items” (in green text) and “bad items” (in red text).  Unfortunately, because red and green are the only ways to know if an item in the list is a “good” item or a “bad” item, people who are using assistive technologies, or people who are colorblind to red and green, won’t know what’s good or bad in this list.  This is an authoring error that needs to be fixed in Word.  One solution could be to create two lists, one for “good” items and another for “bad” items.  Another solution may be to create a data table with a “good” column and a “bad” column.

To check for appropriate color use follow these steps:

  1. In CommonLook Office, select the “Show Filter” button.  A lens will open which, when moved over the document, will remove the color so that you can determine whether or not information is lost when the color is removed.
    Screenshot of the Color checkpoint panel in CommonLook Office. The Show Filter button is highlighted.
  2. Move the lens, either with the mouse or the arrow keys on your keyboard, over the content on the page to make sure that, when color is removed, information isn’t lost.
    Screenshot of the filter over the Word document showing color removed.
  3. As previously mentioned, if information is lost due to the use of color, this needs to be fixed in Word.  In the CommonLook Office Ribbon, select the “Close & Return to Word” button, fix the color issues, save your changes, and then reopen CommonLook to continue working.  (Tip:  Every page that uses color will be listed in the CommonLook Office panel.  For efficiency, you could check all of the pages, making a note of those that need to be fixed, and then return to Word, fix all of the color issues, and then reopen CommonLook Office.)
    The Close and Return to Word button is highlighted in the CommonLook Office ribbon.
  4. Select “Next Task” to proceed through the other pages that use color.
    1. Page Three – the Chart – While this is not an ideal presentation of the data in the chart, the information will also be conveyed by the Alternative text assigned during the “Non-Text Content” checkpoint.
    2. Page Four – The Complex Table – Even though page four doesn’t contain color, the color checkpoint stops here because of the bold font in the table headers. If information was being conveyed solely by the use of bold font, this would also be considered a color failure, because screen readers won’t identify font (or other formatting changes such as italics, underline, etc.), and the information that formatting changes are intended to convey.  However, because we’ve addressed the table in the “Data Tables” checkpoint, we know that this table will be accessible and compliant.
  5. Use “Next Applicable Checkpoint” to proceed through the document.

Tip:  If you closed CommonLook Office to fix the color problem on page 2, when reopening CommonLook, it’ll stop on the checkpoint for images and Alternative text even though, at this point, those issues have been corrected.  This is because some checkpoints, like Alternative text for images, are, by default, “user verification” checkpoints meaning that they can’t be automatically passed.  CommonLook wants you to verify, in this example, that the Alternative text for the graphics is correct.  However, because we’ve already fixed the Alternative text for the images, you can easily “fast forward” to where you left off by using the “Next Applicable Checkpoint” button.


“The main purpose of metadata is to facilitate in the discovery of relevant information, more often classified as resource discovery. Metadata also helps organize electronic resources, provide digital identification, and helps support archiving and preservation of the resource. Metadata assists in resource discovery by ‘allowing resources to be found by relevant criteria, identifying resources, bringing similar resources together, distinguishing dissimilar resources, and giving location information.’”  (For more information, visit the Wikipedia page on metadata.)

Use the text fields in the Metadata checkpoint to add the following information:

  1. Title – (Required by all standards) This should be short but informative to the purpose of the document.
  2. Author – This is not an individual person’s name. Use the name of your organization, department, agency, division, etc.
  3. Subject – Sometimes the same as the title. May provide a brief description of the document.
  4. Keywords – Keywords make the document searchable online.  Separate keywords with semicolons.
    Screnshot of the Metadata checkpoint panel in CommonLook Office.
  5. When finished inputting the metadata information, choose “Next Applicable Checkpoint” to continue.


There are two checkpoints to address links.  They’re described next.

Alternative Text on Links

Similar to images and “non-text” content, hyperlinks should also have Alternative text that tells people using assistive technologies where the link will take them (or what it’ll do, for example, opening an email to compose and send).  This checkpoint allows you to describe the link in a meaningful way.

  1. Select the link in the CommonLook panel.
  2. In the “Textual Description” field, replace the URL with a more appropriate description of the link’s target.  In this case, an example of appropriate Alt text might be: “The Department of Justice’s report on ADA and Section 508.”
    Screenshot of the CommonLook Office panel for Link Alternative text. The link is selected in CommonLook, it's highlighted in the physical view, and the Textual Description has been edited in the CommonLook panel.
  3. Select “Next Applicable Checkpoint” to continue working through the document.

Link’s “Display” Text

A common authoring practice, when including a link in a document, is to simply hyperlink the words “click here” or to provide the URL (as in our example).  This, however, is a poor authoring practice.  For one reason, screen readers can scan through a document reading only the links.  If all of the links simply say, “Click Here”, the user has no indication of where that link will take them and whether or not that’s the link they want to follow.  Equally uninformative is including the entire URL; that can be just as confusing and useless as “click here.”  This checkpoint asks you to verify that the hyperlinked text is sufficiently descriptive.  (Tip:  A well authored link is one where you can read just the hyperlinked text and know where the link is going to take you.)

One way to fix the issue as encountered in this sample document is as follows:

  1. Close CommonLook Office and return to Word (with the button in the ribbon).
  2. Select the link text in the document and right-click on it (open its context menu).
  3. From the context menu, choose “Edit Hyperlink.”
    Screenshot of the context menu to edit a hyperlink in MS Word.
  4. When the “Edit Hyperlink” window opens, type appropriate text into the “Text to display” field.  In the screen shot below, the text was changed to “View the DOJ Section 508 report.”
    Screenshot showing the edited hyperlink text in Word.
  5. Select “OK” at the lower right corner of the Edit Hyperlink window.
  6. Save your changes and then reopen CommonLook Office to continue through the other checkpoints.

Heading Levels – Skipped Headings

The next error identified by CommonLook Office is that heading levels have been skipped.  As a result, not only will improper structural information be conveyed to the user, but also document navigation will be more difficult.

As illustrated in the screenshot below, the CommonLook Office panel will list the headings used in the document and identify where headings have been skipped.  Selecting one of the headings listed in the CommonLook panel will highlight that text in the Physical View of the Word document.

Screenshot of the CommonLook Office for Skipped Headings. The headings in the document are listed, the first is selected, and the corresponding text is highlighted in the document.

When the errors have been identified, close CommonLook Office, return to Word, and make the necessary adjustments.

After returning to Word, select the Home tab in the ribbon and, using the “Styles,” assign the proper heading levels to the various sections of the document.  Tip:  When changing the Styles, it’s very likely that the text’s font, size, position, etc., may change.  Once you’ve applied the correct Style then adjust the formatting as needed.  It’ll end up looking the same but the Styles, and the tagging in the PDF, will be correct.

For ease and consistency in using this guide and the practice document, the table below identifies heading text and its associated heading level:

Dealing with increasing concerns for Document Accessibility in Digital Media Today1Heading 1
Introduction: Electronic Documents1Heading 2
Why is PDF so Prevalent?1Heading 2
The Use of Color2Heading 2
Result is Limited to Compliance with Regulations on Many Websites2Heading 2
Nested (sub) Lists2Heading 2
Images3Heading 2
Examples of Tables3Heading 2
Presentation Table3Heading 3
Simple Table3Heading 3
Complex Table4Heading 3

Screenshot showing the Home tab highlighted in Word, the document title is identified, and the Heading 1 style is highlighted.

After the headings in the Word document have been assigned the proper Styles, save your work and reopen CommonLook Office to continue working.  As previously mentioned, you’ll need to proceed through the “user verification” checkpoints again but because things like Alternative text and now Metadata have already been addressed, you can “fast forward” through these checkpoints fairly quickly.

Creating the PDF Document

After fixing the skipped heading levels, opening CommonLook Office, and using “Next Applicable Checkpoint” to “fast forward,” you’ll discover that you’ve addressed all of the issues in this document and the “Save as Accessible PDF” dialog box will open.

By default, the PDF will be saved in the same location where the Word document is, and it’ll be saved with the same File name.  Make changes if needed and then choose “Save.”

Creating a Report and Viewing the PDF

After the PDF has been generated, CommonLook Office will ask if you want to save a compliance report.  In the dialog box that opens, select “Yes” to generate the report as an accessible HTML file.  It’ll be saved in the same location with the Word document and the PDF.

The dialog box to generate a compliance report.

Next, CommonLook will ask you if you want to open the PDF you just made.  In the dialog box that opens, select “Yes” to open the PDF.

The dialog box to open the PDF.

Closing Remarks

Congratulations, you’ve generated an accessible WCAG 2.0 compliant PDF using CommonLook Office!

We hope that this Quick Start Guide has been a helpful resource in getting started using the software.

For more tips, help, and information, please visit the CommonLook website.  For information about training in CommonLook Office, please visit our Training page, email your account executive, or contact us at

We wish you continued success in your creation of accessible and compliant PDFs!