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Heading Tags – A heading is text in a PDF that indicates a document title or section in a PDF. If you imagine a PDF is a book, then the headings are like the title and chapters in a PDF. H1 headings would be the main title of the PDF. H2 headings would be like the chapters in a book. If the book is a textbook, H3 – H6 are like the sub-headings within chapters. Try to be consistent with your sub headings.

To tag text as a heading, open your PDF and go to Advanced > Accessibility >Touch-Up Reading Order Panel (or click on the icon in the toolbar if you’ve placed it there)

Open Touch Up Reading Order Panel

Open Touch Up Reading Order Panel

Draw a rectangle around text that you want to label as a level 1 heading and click Heading 1.

Highlight text - click Heading 1

Highlight text - click Heading 1

If the “show page content order” is checked on the Touch Up-Reading Order Panel the text you just selected should now be highlighted in gray with a number on the left-hand side.

With Show Page order checked

With Show Page order checked

Tag view

Tag view

To tag as heading level 2 or 3, click Heading 2 or Heading 3, respectively.

To tag as heading level 4 – 6, tag as 1 -3, then change the 3 to a 4, 5 or 6 in the tag panel much the same way as you would rename a file on your computer.

Changing tags is easy in tags panel

Changing tags is easy in tags panel

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2011 3:25 pm

    I just came across you Blog today and i have a question for you. Would you tag all of the paragraphs after the H1 as text? I find that this will works sometimes, but other time I will have to use H2 for subsequent paragraphs to assure that they are tagged separately. If I only tag the paragraphs as text, they will usually combine into on big tagged element.



    • March 7, 2011 3:59 pm

      That’s okay, Vince — they remain separate paragraphs in the tags. Don’t tag regular text as headings because the text is not a heading.

  2. March 7, 2011 5:51 pm

    Thank you very much for the reply and the new tip!

    What happens when text is tagged as H2 or H3 even though it really is not a header? I am curious to know so that I will not be making that mistake in the future.



    • March 7, 2011 6:13 pm

      You’re welcome, Vince.

      Sometimes a person using a screen reader will navigate a site using headings — sort of like one might preview a textbook — Title, chapters, sub-headings, etc.

      If you tag blocks of text as headings it could be cumbersome for a screen reader user to listen to all of that text when he or she is really just “skimming” the material.

      Imagine if you opened a textbook and all of the text was the size of chapter headings. That’s what it would be like for a screen reader user who was using headings to navigate a document if you tagged the text as headings.

  3. February 25, 2013 2:51 pm

    I just came across this blog. It’s very helpful! I’m wondering about tagging a whitepaper that has the title of the document on every page. If in a hardcopy book, it would be there to let you know, but it would be “background noise” and you wouldn’t consciously read it on every page. What’s the rule for pdf tagging? Should I mark it as “text” or as “background”?

    • February 25, 2013 3:33 pm

      I would mark it as background (or artifact in the tag tree). You are right — it would be probably ignored by sighted visitors and background noise for screen reader users if it were marked as text.

      Thanks for visiting!

  4. February 25, 2013 10:43 pm

    Thanks, Dona. That was very helpful. Is it safe to assume that it’s good practice to keep page numbers tagged?

  5. Laurie G. permalink
    April 25, 2014 4:52 pm

    Dona, I am experiencing my very first adventure in creating accessible PDFs. I have a question about the use of 3 different text elements that are used to create a heading 1 on page 1. The design of the title was done in InDesign CS 5.5 and in the native software I have set the reading order so that the elements are read in the proper sequence on export. For screen reading purposes, I don’t know how to group the three elements and tag them properly so that there is only one h1 on the page. Clear as mud?

    • June 24, 2014 12:52 pm

      Hi Laurie — so sorry for the delay in answering. It has been a crazy spring. I am not sure I understand your question. I am not an InDesign user so I don’t know what you mean when you say 3 elements that are used to create text.

      • Laurie permalink
        June 26, 2014 8:01 pm

        No worries, Dona. I have gained more experience in the conversion-to-accessible PDF process and have an answer to my question.

        What I was working on was a brochure with a title that included three different text frames (a decorative flare to the design). The title, for accessibilitiy purposes, would be an H1. That being said, the screen reader was reading the heading out of order becasue of the position of the text frames.

        I have since learned that I can add alt text to text frames in Acrobat to read the way I want them to.

        I’m not sure I explained this any better…thanks for inquring further!


  6. Louise Stevanovic permalink
    September 23, 2014 4:44 am

    Thank you for this blog. I am saving Word documents as PDFs to publish online. The Word documents have been created using heading styles. We use Title style for the document title, and H1, H2, H3 within the document. H1 is a section heading so there are multiple H1 headings within each document. I’ve read there should only be one H1 heading. is that true? If so, can you suggest a good workaround (other than manually remapping all our styles in Adobe Professional to the level below (H1 to H2, H2 to H3) etc. which seems very cumbersome. Thanks!

  7. Laura Hamm permalink
    July 27, 2017 5:38 pm

    I just found this blog. I am having difficulties with appropriately nested headings. As far as I can tell, all headings are nested correctly. Is there something I am doing wrong? Accessibility will not pass even after I have made corrections.

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