On this page: Background and Purpose | Instructions | Guidelines and Standards

Heading Levels – Skipped or Nested (MS Word)

Background and Purpose

When headings are used correctly in MS Word, assistive technologies are not only able to convey the document’s structure, but also allow users to navigate more easily through the document.

The Purpose of this checkpoint is to ensure that heading levels have been not been skipped.  For example, a heading 1 cannot be followed by a heading 3 (without a heading 2 in between).


CommonLook Office will display a warning message for each instance of skipped heading levels. To correct the problem, close CommonLook Office by selecting “Close and Return to Word” (the first button on the left side of the Ribbon) and edit the document to ensure no heading levels are skipped.

Screen shot of the panel in CommonLook Office Global Access advising the user that heading levels have been skipped. Also, the CommonLook ribbon is shown with the button to Close CommonLook and return to Word highlighted.

Note:  Heading 1 should be used for the document title, Heading 2 is used to designate major sections in the document such as chapters, and Heading 3 is used for subsections within a particular chapter or major section.  It might help to think of headings like an outline.

Guidelines and Standards

This checkpoint is relevant to the following regulations, guidelines and standards:

DocumentPublishedScopeConformance Criteria
Section 508 – 2001 Regulations (USA)2001“Web-Based Information & Applications”Not required
W3C WCAG 2.0
(REVISED SECTION 508 – 2017)
2008Web ContentSC 2.4.6
SC 2.4.10
Health and Human Services – HHS (USA)2013PDF File 508 ChecklistID 3.4
ISO 14289 (PDF/UA)2012PDF TechnologySection 7.4