U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
EERE Communication Standards & Guidelines
This page describes requirements and best practices for writing a text version. Text versions provide an alternative way for visitors who have difficulties seeing or hearing to experience your content. Text versions are different than alt text, which is required for all static images.
Text versions are required by Section 508 for all content with a visual or audio component. This includes audio files, videos, and animations.
These are the requirements for developing a text version.
Writing a Text Version
Text versions, no matter what media they are designed for, should include the following elements:
- All spoken dialogue
- A description of all important events and actions that occur in the file
- Anything displayed visually in the file, such as words or symbols
A text version should describe not only the spoken words, but all of the major events and messages within it. A visitor should be able to read a text version and understand all of the major themes and messages in a multimedia file.
For an audio-only file, a text version is essentially a transcript. Like transcripts, you should include a word-for-word transcription of everything said. You do not need to include stuttering or filler phrases like "um" and "uhh." Background noises that add to the context of the audio should also be described.
Videos include a strong visual and aural component. Like an audio-only file, your text version needs to include a complete transcript of everything said in the video.
You also need to describe all of the major events that occur in the video. Minor events that do not help a viewer understand the message of a video (such as transitional screens or text displayed on the screen that repeats what the speaker is saying) do not need to be described.
Section 508 requires that your videos be captioned. To read more about captioning videos, see the EERE Video Standards. If captioning is not possible, a link to the text version may be used.
Flash animations can be handled two different ways, depending on how complex the animation is.
If your animation is simple enough that all of its meaningful content can be described in a single paragraph, then you should write your text version like you would alt text for a normal image. This will be coded as a hidden text alternative, visible only to users using a screen reader. See the Flash Animation standards for more information on coding hidden text alternatives.
If your animation is too complicated to describe in a single paragraph, then you will need to write a full-length text version, like you would for a video.
Some Flash animations include a degree of interactivity which can be difficult to describe in a linear text file. In this case, the content writer will have to decide on a case-by-case basis what information needs to be included in the file in order to allow a visitor to understand everything that happens in the animation. You do not need to describe every detail. However, your text version must allow visitors to receive a similar understanding of the content as a user who used the animation.
Organizing a Text Version
Text versions are usually coded as separate HTML pages. If the text version is very short, then you can include the text version on the same page as the multimedia file. For an example, see the WINDExchange's Agricultural Podcasts.
Follow the EERE Multimedia Standards when deciding where to place animations, video files, or audio files on your page.
The header must include:
- The name of the file the text version was written for
- The words (Text Version)
The introductory text should explain that the page is a text version. You should include a link from the introductory text to the page where the original file lives. This will allow visitors who find the page through a search engine to find the original multimedia file.
See the intro text of the text version for Energy 101: Electric Vehicles for an example.
Linking to a Text Version
You should include a link from the multimedia file to the text version. If a multimedia file is directly embedded onto your page, then you can include a link to the text version in the caption underneath the file.
If you link directly to a multimedia file directly, you should include a link to the text version near the link to download the file.
Following these best practices will result in higher quality content.
Use Subheads to Divide Topics
Use subheaders to break longer text version into topics. This is similar to using subheaders to divide content on a normal content page.
Visitors who use screen readers can use subheaders to navigate through a page. Because text versions are designed for these visitors, using subheaders to break a long text version into topics or sections helps them jump to the part of the text they're interested in.