Writing alternative text descriptions

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As a publicly funded institution, Nordicom is required to meet the EU's Web Accessibility Directive (EUR-Lex, 2016). This Directive is also in line with our own mission to impart science-based knowledge about media and communication to decision-makers, professional groups, and citizens in the Nordic countries and internationally. Part of this effort is to make all aspects of our publications accessible, in order to allow “everyone, including people with disabilities, to perceive, understand, navigate and interact with” the knowledge we seek to disseminate (European Commission, 2016).

As an author, your role in this effort is to provide alternative text descriptions (alt text) for all figures you submit for publication at Nordicom.

Here are some things to keep in mind before you get started:

  • First, establish your motivation for including the figure: Why is it meaningful? Does it illustrate or highlight something that cannot be described in the text? If it is purely illustrative, then it should not be included.
     
  • Do not repeat the header, comments, or surrounding text. Imagine someone is reading the article to you: What would you want to hear when they get to the figure?
     
  • Keep the text as short as possible – preferably one sentence.
     
  • Don’t use symbols, such as "&" – spell out the word.

 

The following formula is a simple and straightforward place to start (Cesal, 2020):

Type of figure of data type or what’s shown where reason for including figure

 

Examples

Figure 1 Trust in news and social media (per cent)

Bar chart of Scandinavian trust in the news and social media where the majority in all countries trust the news they use the most and social media least

Alt text:
Bar graph of Scandinavian trust in the news where the majority in all countries trust the news they use the most and social media least

 

Figure 2 Voter turnouts in national elections (per cent)

Line graph of voter turnouts where Norway and Finland have decreased in the last fifty years

Alt text:

Line graph of voter turnouts where Finnish turnout has decreased almost 20 percent from the 1960s to the 2010s and Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden remain relatively stable

 

Figure 3 Female representation in Canadian news media

Donut chart of the male-to-female representation ratio where men dominate 2-to-1

Alt text:

Donut chart of the male-to-female representation ratio where men dominate 2-to-1

 

Figure 4 More of the same: The self-reinforcing spiral of how a filter bubble emerges

Diagram of filter bubble creation illustrating the push–pull cycle of algorithmic filtering

Alt text:

Diagram of filter bubble creation illustrating the push-pull cycle of algorithmic filtering 

 

References and further reading

Cesal, A. (2020, July 23). Writing alt text for data visualization. Nightengale. https://medium.com/nightingale/writing-alt-text-for-data-visualization-…

European Commission. (2016). Shaping Europe’s digital future: Web accessibility. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/web-accessibility

EUR-Lex. (2016). Directive (EU) 2016/2102 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 October 2016 on the accessibility of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies. Official Journal of the European Union, L 327/1. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/dir/2016/2102/oj

Schepers, D. (2020, May 21). Why accessibility is at the heart of data visualization. Nightingale. https://medium.com/nightingale/accessibility-is-at-the-heart-of-data-vi…

 

Contact

If you have questions or concerns, please contact the manuscript editor at kristin.clay@nordicom.gu.se  

 


Page last updated October 2021