How to Write Amazing Alt Text

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There’s been a lot of buzz around alternative text, or “alt text,” recently. You’ve heard about alt text but you’re not quite sure what it is or where it’s used. In addition, many people don’t understand the importance of alt text or how to write it correctly. We want to give you the tools you need to write amazing alt text.

Person's arms and fingers typing on a laptop to add alt text to an image in an office warehouse and tea mug

What is alt text?

Alternative text, or “alt text”, is used to describe images in electronic documents and online. Images on websites, social media, and electronic documents need descriptive text to let someone with a visual disability know what’s on the page or in a document. It allows people using screen readers or other assistive technology to better understand what they’re reading. It’s especially important if an image is crucial to the text surrounding it. Alt text also makes social media more engaging for people with visual disabilities. They may not be able to see your Instagram picture but they can get an idea of why you’re posting it and why it’s important.

Needless to say, including alt text in your business strategy is important for your customers who rely on assistive technology. It allows them to connect with your organization’s information. But, how do you add meaningful alt text to your website, electronic documents, and social media efforts so everyone is included? Let’s take a look.

Writing amazing alt text

First, you want to really look at the picture you’re going to describe. Look to see what’s important about that picture. Consider these aspects of the image: 

  • Does the image contribute to the content around it or is it purely decorative? 
  • How does the image relate to the content around it? 
  • Is it a stand-alone social media image?

Good news! If the image is purely decorative—like a border or shape used to make the page more aesthetically pleasing—and doesn’t contribute to the content in any way, you can skip it.

Next, you want to condense the idea of the image into a concise statement with as few words as possible. You don’t want to leave information out of your description but it’s important to be as precise as possible while giving the end-user a good understanding of what’s on the screen.

While creating your concise statement, consider the following:

  • Jump right into describing the image and exclude “picture of” or “image of” in your description. Those words aren’t necessary in the world of alt text.
  • There’s typically no need to include color or shapes in your description. It doesn’t convey any important information to the reader.
  • Make sure to include any text from the image in your description. For example, infographics and memes often have text that accompanies the image and should be included. 

When you think you’ve written the best alt text you can, read the text out loud without looking at the image. Does it make sense when you hear it? If so, you’re probably good to move on to the next image.

Remember, the goal of writing alt text is to provide the same information that a visual user would get.

How to add alt text

Some platforms make adding alt text easy. There’s a clearly marked field or button where you can add your description. Other times it’s harder. If you’re having a hard time finding the field to add your image description, check “Options”, “Settings”, “Format”, or something along those lines. 

Still at a loss as to where you can add your alt text? Hop over to your favorite search engine and ask the internet. Someone out there will probably know.

Doesn’t social media add alt text for me?

It’s true that some social media platforms add alt text to your images. But, the text they add is almost always less than helpful. For example, one popular social media platform gave our picture below the following alt text: cloud and sky.

Sample image for writing alt text

We went into the image options and gave it better alt text: American flag on a wooden pole waving in a lightly clouded sky with the words “Veterans Day Honoring all who served” and the Braille Works logo.

Taking this extra step with your pictures makes sure your friends and followers with visual impairments aren’t left out.

Am I doing this right?

Everyone writes alt text a little differently. And, chances are you’ll get better at writing it with practice over time. The most important aspect of writing amazing alt text is making sure you’re conveying the same information a sighted person would get. As long as you’re doing that, you’re on the right track.


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This post was written by Jessica Sanders

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