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Alt-Text Q&A

It can take a lot of practice to get good at writing Alt-text, and even then we can sometimes hit a wall when describing images. This section is to post any of your problem images you are stuck with describing, or any images you have in general about Alt-text and Image Descriptions. All other eText questions can go on the general Q&A page.

Before you post here, please review the documentation, the Q&A Archive at the bottom of this page, and general Q&A page to ensure the answer is not already given.

Q: I am working on Prairie Fire and saw this image that I have to write alt-text for. I'm unsure of how to write alt-text for this… I can't read most of the words. Is this considered complex alt-text? I don't even know where to start…

A: So this falls under the Images with Text category. It is all about context. In this case, there would be no reason to transcribe the entire image, because it is explained in the surrounding text what it is. Also, it is illegible, so you no one would be able to transcribe it. You just state what it is (advert) and then transcribe the headline. See Images with Text

Q: I'm working on the comic pages for Mermaids in "Angel Wing Splash Pattern". The comic is based on the short story in the book, and I'm wondering if I can base some of my description on the text in the short storey. For example, panel 3 on page 1 shows something dripping down the figures leg (in black and white). If I had the comic alone I would not infer what it was that was dripping… but from the short story I know that it is blood that it is dripping. It is appropriate to describe this as blood? Or do I need to let the comic speak for itself?

A: Describe it as you see it in the image only. If it is clear in the image or surrounding images that it is blood, then describe it as such.

Q: I'm currently working on "Angel Wing Splash Pattern" by Richard Van Camp and there is a white smiley face emoticon on the bottom of the first page of the introduction. However, when I insert the unicode symbol on my mac it changes the emoticon to a yellow smiley face with blushing cheeks. Will this cause any problems with the conversion process or will I need to insert the emoticon through a different process?

A: You did it correctly. The smiley face in the original is stylized, the unicode version is accessible to screen readers. It is okay if it looks differently, it is still an emoji and is accessible.

Q: I'm working on Kamik Takes the Lead and near the end, I'm not sure if the last three images are part of the story or decorative? The story just sort of… doesn't end? And throughout the book, there are many images where there is no text. These images are a little different, which would make me assume they are decorative, but I also think that they provide some sort of context to the end of the book. Should I write alt-text for these images?

Image 1:

Image 2:

Image 3:

A: Good Question! So all those yellow pages can be removed, they are just decorative. I would still describe the other two images at the end. They only need simple Alt-text.

Q&A Archive

Q: I am currently working on I Will Dance and I swear I have tried to edit this image a few times but I can't figure out how to condense this into something with less words? It's such a busy image but I don't want to just say "Kids and adults stand in a circle". How do I make this less wordy? Do I remove the detail of clothing?

A: I can not read that screenshot, please email me the alt-text in a doc file so I can properly read it and provide feedback.

UPDATE: I looked at your description and the book, and one thing I noticed is that it is the same characters over and over again. When there are repeated characters you only have describe them the first time you see them, and then you just have to describe what is different (or if nothing is different, just mention them by name.) If the characters are never named then refer to them by a feature that stands out and is consistent (the girl in a wheelchair, the boy in the green hat, the girl with the pigtails.) Remember to always start big and go small. The first sentence describes the entire image. Example: "The kids form a circle and look around at each other." This first sentence sums up the entire image, but can also ground and guide your description. Then break this image down into sections and describe in order of how they are standing the ones that stick out the most. For example, the boy with the prosthetic leg, the kid sitting, the girl in the wheelchair and her caregiver, and the girl jumping. Don't worry about describing every detail. You want to walk the reader through the image in a logical order that is not overwhelming. If you are overwhelmed by what you wrote, that is a good indicator you need to describe less and be more direct and concise with your word choices. You got this!

Q: I have a couple of questions regarding "The Beach Is Loud" and children's books in general. How should one go about describing alt-text for pages with multiple, distinct images like in the image below. Should we still start the description with something similar to "This page is split into three images. In the image on top, the boy…" or would it be better to narrate progression because it's a children's book, ie. describe the first portion and then include something like "the boy is now standing in front of a table"? Also because the portions of text specific to each part of the image, I believe it needs to be included in the alt-text but should it also be transcribed into the body of book?

A: To describe the image, set it up to explain it is an image in 3 parts as in your first example. Remember when you are describing images for Children's books to be more narrative, and match the tone and rhythm of the book. Keep your word choices at the same reading level of the book. See the Alt-text section for Children's Books for more info on how to describe images in Children's books.

Images in Children's books are not treated as images of text. You transcribe the text below the image. The only time you would include text in the image description is if it is part of the image, such as sounds. For example, the pages that talk about the beach being loud. "pat pat" "stomp" etc. will be part of the image description and not transcribed.

Q: I'm working on the picture book "Do Not Eat The Game" (which is a super cute book!). Because the book talks about games, the illustrator put the images in a game board track, so there are often multiple image panels on a page, sort of like a comic book! There are two spreads in the book where there is a long panel that crosses two pages, plus smaller panels on the bottom that shows a sequence of events. I have an idea of how to tackle an image that extends over two pages, but I'm struggling with these spreads because my continuous description is interrupted by the sequence panels… can I describe the top panel fully in my first description, and then carry on with the sequence? Or do you have another idea of how I should tackle these?

A: You could tackle this like a comic, but a little differently. Instead of panels, I would call them squares, to imitate game lingo. I would tackle this like a comic, but slightly differently. We should set up a meeting to discuss this.

Q: Another question for the I Will Dance book. After the story is over, there is the Message from the Author, a part of the book about Young Dance, a random image (pictured below) and then the Back Cover page. What do I do with this random image? It's not part of the story, it's not part of the back cover, I have no idea what to put as the header or if I should keep it?

A: Image is decorative, so it can be removed. Remember that all decorative images can be removed.

Q: I am currently working on "This Beach is Loud!" and it seems that the only that was extracted during the conversion process was the cover page. I have followed the wiki steps for extracting images using both ecancrusher and the mac terminal, but all the pages were extracted as full two-page spreads. I have also noticed that the words on the pages were extracted as separate images from the main image. Should I still use the two-page spreads for the images or can you please advise on how to properly separate the pages within the image? Also, can the images still be used if the words have been extracted from the image? Here is an example of the extracted image

Edit: There seems to be a problem with the sound for these links. There is a lot of static and the narration cannot be heard. Can you please re-record the videos. Thank you. Answer: Ironically there is a loud audio corruption on a book call The Beach is Loud! I updated the links below. Please let me know if you need anything else!

A:You don't have to worry about the words, they converted to the Word doc. When you clear formatting you can modify the Normal style as demonstration in this video: Fixed layout often convert into two page layouts, and that is fine. You will need to crop the images. See this demonstration in this video: Here is the link a tool to help you crop the images:

Q:I'm having some trouble with a complex image in Satan is a socialist (in chapter 6). Specifically I'm getting stuck on how/where to describe the arrows because I can't figure out if they're trying to juxtapose two events or if they have another purpose, and I'm not gleaning much from the image's context. How would you approach the arrows in this image? In my description so far, I've explained the basic layout of the chart including that it is split into two halves (pro/anti America) and then I've listed the centuries, lightside/darkside, and the events in a nested list. For example:

• 1600 o Pro-America  1620 Plymouth Colony o Anti-America  1607 Jamestown Settlement

As I've considered the arrows I wondered if I should describe them and their locations after the list, or if I should somehow integrate them into the list of events that I already have. Thanks for all your help with this title.

A: Looks like this is a comparative chart contrasting the pro/anti Americas. This can be a table with the heading being the Era, Pro America, Anti America. The first column would have the era (1600s) followed by the Pro/Anti info. If there is more than one comparison in an era just have multiple rows for that era.

Q:For this image in Satan is a Socialist (chapter 8), there is a footnote in the image, specifically the subtitle. Is it appropriate for me to attach the footnote to the image as a whole?

A: Add the title as a caption to the image and add the footnote to the caption. This way you are able to add the footnote to the correct phrase and it will be more clear to the reader.

Q: One more for "Peanut Goes for the Gold". I know we are not supposed to describe the text in the cover image because it will be in the metadata. However, the author kind of pops up here between the text… How do I go about describing he author without a) having it be jarring for the reader, and b) how do I indicate where the author is without describing the text?

A: It is not always necessary to include the title, author, editor or illustrator when describing a cover, but you can if you choose. In this case you are describing the font, so it is helpful to state the title again. Always break down an image and describe it in a logical sequence. I am presuming you are talking about the illustrator's name? You can break down the image description as follows:

  • Title, author, illustrator. e.g. "Peanut Goes for the Gold" by Jonathan Van News, pictures by ….
  • Describe font. e.g. Title is in large yellow font across the space of the cover with the words 'Peanut' and 'Gold' larger than the other words.
  • Describe Hamster. e.g. Hamster jumps through title … go into details of Hamster

EDIT Q2: I was talking more about the photo of the Author (Jonathan Van News) at the top. He's holding his hand to his face? I wasn't going to describe the actual text, but I'm wondering if I have to if the author's photo is in the middle of his name up at the top? How do I do that without having it be jarring? Do I then have to talk about the text, in this case?

A: Author image is decorative. Do not include in description.

Q: Another question for "Peanut Goes for the Gold". At the very end, there is a back cover image of the author, surrounded by the characters from the book. He has a really fun mustache. I read that for About the Author, usually we remove the image of the author unless it's interesting and something that would be talked about. We want our readers to have the same experience. However, this isn't a section for "About the Author", because there is no text to accompany this back cover. So I was thinking to remove it? I'm not sure what the correct course of action is here. The back cover has no other extra interesting information about the book to offer.

A: This is a children's book, so you would follow the guidelines for Children's Books. Here are the directions for Back Covers in Children's Books.

Q: I am working on "Peanut Goes for the Gold", and I noticed that the Publishing Information is an image instead of written out. This is the first time I've come across it. I checked the Q&A and couldn't find anything about this either. Should I delete the image and re-type it, or follow the guidelines for "Images with text"?

A: This can happen if the original was a Fixed Layout ebook. Follow images of text guidelines and transcribe the section.

Q: I am currently working on writing long descriptions for some letters in "Until We Are Free." In the new video on how to insert bookmarks and return links, it states that the bookmark should be inserted at the start of the text following the image. The section I am working on though does not have any body text in between the images,. I am wondering if I should I place the return bookmark at the end of the sentence "Follow this link for an extended description at the end of the book" so the reader can progress directly to the next image or if it would be better to place the bookmark inside the described image to help the reader place themselves in the text?

A: Bookmarks for Return links are inserted at the image always. The documentation gives the following instructions: For the Return Link Bookmark:

  • Locate the image for your complex description
  • Highlight the image
  • Go to the Insert Menu
  • Locate the Links Section
  • Select Bookmark
  • A popup window will appear
  • In the Bookmark name field enter an identifying name for the image, so you know what image goes with what description.
  • NOTE: It must have no spaces
  • Example: ReturntoMapManitobaVehicles
  • Select Add
  • You now have a bookmark for your return link!

The tutorial is out of date, and I will updated it accordingly so it shows you that the bookmark goes to the image, not the text.

Q: I am currently working on "L’accoucheuse de Scots Bay" and I am transcribing a news article that has been split into two images. I am wondering if I should transcribe the whole article (both images) into one complex image description and use the alt-text of the second image to refer the user to the complex image description of the first image. Or, should a complex image description be created for each image?

* Edit Here are the two images

A: Thank you for the edit with the images! I think you are right in your first thought: transcribe it into one long description with a note in the Alt-text for the second image that the transcription is in the previous long description. This also matches the workflow for how to describe images that go over two pages. Let me know if you need any more clarification or guidance on this one.

Q: I'm working on Kamloopa and there are a couple of images for which alt-text has already been completed (by the publisher I'm assuming?). Can I alter their alt text to better fit our standards, or should I leave as is? I wasn't sure if this would be considered "editing" as opposed to reformatting since they've provided the alt-text.

A: Many of these images are images of text in Fixed Layout format (i.e. the entire page is rendered as a single image.) These are inaccessible, and require you to transcribe them with accessible formatting as per our documentation. If there are any images within these pages you need separated, let me know and I will get them for you.The other Alt-text is fine as it is from the publisher.

Q: I am currently working on "L'accoucheuse de Scots Bay" and there are a couple of images that seem to be news articles, see start of chapter 10, what is the best practice for handling pictures that only contain text? Is it more important to keep the image and provide the transcription in a complex image description or to transcribe the image directly into the body of the work?

A: Great question.

Context is always key when you are working with images, as the context will help you judge how much to describe, and what to describe. If the content of these newspaper clippings (articles ads etc.) are essential to the story, then they will need to be transcribed in a complex image description. Only if the it is an image of a word or phase do we transcribe and remove the image, images of newspaper clippings and ads are treated as images with text. Remember, if it is an ad then you need to also describe any images in the adds. You can use the complex description workflow. As stated on the Complex Image Description wiki page: "We can also create longer, complex descriptions when we need to transcribe an image, such as an image of a letter." Since these are french titles, please do not describe them in using DeepL, describe them in English and we will have our in house translator change them to French. If you are comfortable with transcribing the French, you may, but be very careful.

Q: I'm having some trouble with this image in the prologue of "Dream First Details later. I was doing some searching on alt-text for flow charts and this link ( had a suggested method which is based on a nested list (although my image has 7 layers compared to the three layers in the example, so I'm not sure if my list would get to dense this way?). How should I proceed?

A: A nested list is the correct way to logically describe this image, some flowcharts are more complex than others so it is okay if you it has more than 3 levels. Judging from this image it looks like the longest Yes Train is 5 levels, and then is gets shorter after that. Start with the first question, follow the 5 yes's, then follow the one no in a nested list, then go to the next question and repeat.

e.g. Title: "How to Embark …"

A guide by….

Yellow Arrow Label Reads: "Start Here" at the first question. Each Question can lead to different outcomes as described below:

First question: "?"

  1. If "yes" then Q:
    1. If "yes then Q:
      1. If "yes then Q:
        1. If "yes then Q:
          1. If "yes then Q:
  2. If "no" then:

Second Question: "?"

Q: I'm not sure how to write Alt Text for this. This example happens twice within the book. The top part "BEFORE" goes along with the text "I packed a bunch of photos in my dad’s suitcase, so he wouldn’t forget us by the weekend" and so on and so forth.

A: This one is very tricky. I looked throughout the text and this seems to be a pattern. Could you pass me back this title and I will share it with our testers to see what we could potentially do to make these images. Sometimes FXL layout is not convertible to reflowable text, I will keep you posted on this.

Q: I have a question about how to approach the alt-text for images of math equations (regarding the title Fight Like a Physicist). Is there a tool/method for transcribing the equations for the alt-text? Some of the equations are relatively short, whereas others are more complex. Contextually, the equation images are part of the text, not independently described.Thank you for your help!

A: Good question. Use Insert / Equation and use Word’s Equation editor to build an expression, which will be stored in the document as OOML. To learn more about inserting equations check out the DAISY Advanced Guide and refer to the section on Math Equations.

Q: I have a question about the tables in Gifted Education. In Chapter 1, there are two tables, labeled Figure 1 and Figure 2. The first table is quite complex with sub-sections and annotations so I thought it would be best do leave it as an image and do a complex image description. Do you think that's best? For the second table, Figure 2, it's not as complex but still more complex that a basic table. For this one, I'm unsure whether I should also do a complex image description or if I should delete the image and reproduce it broken up into several smaller tables?

Figure 1: Figure 2:

A: Good questions. In cases like this it is important to ask what these are for. It seems like these are examples of forms, and not tabular data that needs to be read in detail by the reader. In this case I would suggest doing a complex description for the forms, and remember to call them forms and not tables. The tables in these forms are there as layout design and not as tabular data.

Q: I have a question about The Pencil, an illustrated children's book. The images in the .doc file are a mixture of double wide (one single image for the left and right page) and just one page wide. Should the double wide images be split in two so we have one image per page like usual? Or should I make them small enough that they fit on a regular portrait-oriented letter-sized page? If they should be split in two, would I use the snipping tool to do that?

A: For any images that ever need edits of this nature, please send the Production Coordinator a message in the RT of the ticket to get the images for you. In this a case it should be okay. If we hit any issues during conversion I will let you know

Q: The book I am working on now, Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock, has a map which has been split across two pages. However, in the PDF version, the map is incomplete; it appears in the scanning process, or however this book was digitized, it cut off what would be the middle of the map. How should I approach writing a description for the map?

A: We will have to make due with what we have, as there are no digital versions of this title. Just describe what you can.

Q: I have a question about how to handle an image in the book Leaving a Legacy. There is a rating scale from 1 to 5 in the text that is presented as an image. I'm considering a few different ways to handle this but I thought the following would be the simplest. Is this okay? (Or should I delete the image, insert the same image as a .jpg, and then enter alt-text for the image?) (Or, if I go with the option below, do I need to make my text replacement a Prod Note since it's my words and not the author'?)

A: This is answered on the Alt-Text page here.

Q: Hi, I'm working on A Year on the Wild Side and its complex image descriptions. I have finished moving all of the image descriptions to the end under the heading "Complex Image Descriptions" and inserted the lines "Navigate back to image" and "Follow this link for an extended description at the end of the book". Now, I'm trying to insert bookmarks and links. However, when I highlight the line, "Follow this link for an extended description at the end of the book" and right click on it, I seem to get a different menu than you. Here's a screenshot of what I see:

I've searched the top menus for a way to "Insert Highlight" and can't find one. The only highlight tools are colour changing highlights.

A: So you are not inserting a highlight, you are inserting a hyperlink. I fixed the Documentation to state Hyperlink, sorry about that confusion. In the screenshot you shared you will want to choose the 'Link' option and insert an hyperlink within the document to the sub-heading for the description you are linking to. You should have all your sub-headings in place in the Complex Image Descriptions section all set to Heading Level 2.

Q: I'm trying to add alt-text to the tables in His Needs, Her Needs but the area where I type the alt-text is greyed out:

I'm using the newest version of Word and I tried closing it and reopening it but it's still greyed out. Any suggestions?

A: Try saving the document as .docx and it should work. If you have done this and still have problems please let me know.

Q: What about emoticons? The book I'm working on quotes an email that uses ; - ) to represent a winky face emoticon. Should I leave it as is? I'm tempted to replace it with [winky face] so that it makes more sense when read by a screen reader.

A: Great question. You should replace it with a proper emoticon symbol, since we don't want to change the original too much and people who have partial sight do read our books. TTS can read emoticons, and you should treat them like other symbols and enter them in using Unicode. The directions on how to set up Unicode are on the Symbols & Abbreviations/Acronyms page (I put in a new heading 'Using Unicode for Symbols'.) You can use the search feature on the page that lists all the Unicode. For example, I searched winky face and it gave me the Unicode here.

Q: Hello! I have a question about an image in the book I'm working on, "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus". In the Prologue, every time the author writes "Muhammad", he inserts a small image. The footnote explains that the image is a symbol representing an Arabic phrase: "peace and blessings of Allah be upon him". I'm thinking of handling this by deleting the image of the symbol and replacing it with the phrase in brackets. What do you think? If I do that, should I insert a prod note explaining what I did?

A: In this case you would treat it as a regular image and insert the Alt-text: symbol representing an Arabic phrase: "peace and blessings of Allah be upon him". You would then put a Producers Note at the beginning of the book to explain why you did this. For more info see here.

Q: I'm trying to keep in mind the aim for clarity and focus on relevant information, but I'm struggling with this. One of the first maps in this book is a map of the North-West area of Canada with a lot of lakes, rivers, and important villages labeled. Throughout the book, there are a few other maps which "zoom in" on specific areas which have already been described in this larger map, perhaps with some added details. Do I need to re-describe the area exactly? Or how should I proceed with these cases? For example, I've included the large map of The North-West and a map of Red River. Lots of the info in the Red River map are already present/described in the North-West map.

A: Maps are challenging for anyone. If you haven't already checked it out, you should go look at the Alt-text samples we have on the wiki (there are two map examples that could help.) To answer your questions: I would not repeat what has already been described. You can start the zoomed in descriptions with something along the lines of 'This map is a closer image of the Red River area…' you could include some sweeping description like "it includes the areas between these rivers" or "it is bordered by these rivers" etc. Then you can add more detail into. Remember that starting big and going small can help in these cases. I also recommend opening a new document to work on the descriptions, so you can easily edit and rewrite as you go. It is good to remember what the purpose of the map is, and to base your description on that purpose. In this case it looks like the map is meant to show the layout of the land, so you should describe it in a way the listener can get a sense of the layout. Where are the rivers and important points? Where to do they lead to. You can start big (this is a map of this area that features rivers and this lake) then start at one point and work your way through the map like you are traveling through it. Reading it aloud will also help.

Q: One more question from His Needs, Her Needs. At the very end of the book, there are 5 full-page images that are advertisements for other books by the author, for his website, and for his publisher. They aren't decorative but I'm not sure how important it is to keep them (and therefore add Alt-text to describe their content). Would you recommend deleting them or keeping them?

A: You can delete these images.

Q: In Appendix B of His Needs, Her Needs, there is a 10 page questionnaire but each page is an image file that contains text, not actually text. Am I right that I should transcribe the text from each image and then delete the image files?

A: In this instance the context is critical to understanding the book, and should be transcribed, the images should be removed, and a Producer's Note should be places at the beginning of the book explaining this has been done. I took a peek at some other parts of the book, and there seems to be other surveys as well. When it comes to these sorts of images it depends again on context, and is a judgement call. If the details of the survey is critical to the understanding of the book, then we do the transcription and Prod Not as mentioned above; if the survey is not critical to the understanding the book then simple Alt-text is enough (remember to keep the Alt-text brief and concise, and you can refer to our Alt text examples for some inspiration if you need it.) There is a Question and Answer a bit further down on this page that addresses this as well for your reference. You can also see the section on Image and Surveys for more information.

Q: What do I do when a single caption refers to and describes two different images? Is it okay to give both images the same caption? ie. copy and paste the caption and apply it once to the first image and then again to the second image?

A: You only have to apply the caption to one of the photos. With the Alt-text and the placing of the images the reader will be able to figure out what is going on.

Q: I have an image of a survey. How should I re format this?

A: It depends on the context of the image. If it’s critical to understanding the book that readers know exactly what was asked in the survey then we might want to translate the entire survey content in a prodnote; otherwise, if it doesn’t really matter to the reading experience what the details of the survey are then Alt-text will do. It’s a bit of a judgement call.

Q: If there is a photograph of a letter, should we transcribe it into the Alt-text?

A: It depends on two factors that should be taken into consideration when writing alternative text (requires some judgement):

  1. the context and purpose of the image: why is the image there? does the author want us to read the contents of the letter? how important is it to be able to read the letter? is there a caption? (if so, does the caption adequately describe the photograph?) You can learn more about when/how to describe here: Determining if the image needs an image description
  2. how long the text is: Alt text is meant to be a brief description of the image, ideally no more than 120 words as a general rule of thumb. If it's necessary to transcribe the letter and the letter is lengthy, we can create a complex description.

Q: For images that contain a lot of information (such as an Army record that contains a lot of text, finger prints, tables, etc.), what is recommended in terms of Alt Text?

A: Very good question! Image descriptions can be tricky. The first question I like to consider is the purpose of the image: is it decorative? for visual interest only? provide essential information? We also consider if it's adequately described in the surrounding content already.

Let's take "Shaw's US Army Record" image from Rich man, poor man as an example (below). There's a lot of text embedded within this image.

What's the purpose? This image is located at the end of the book (in the biography section) and a brief caption is provided. I haven't read the book, but I think the general purpose of the image is to give the reader a sense of what his Army record looked like, so the alternative text could describe some essential things that we can glean from the record, such as: this is his "Military Record and Report of Separation, Certificate of Service" and it contains both personal data and information about his military history.

What do I see? How much information we want to provide about his personal and military history depends on: 1) what we can actually see! (the image quality is poor, so most likely the author doesn't think it's very important that we see or know the details), and 2) what information might readers want to know that's here and isn't already in the book.

To be honest, I can't make out much information here, so I think it would be perfectly appropriate to leave out specific personal and military history details from the Alternative Text description.

Shaw's US Army Record

For further exploration: Diagram Center is the authority on image descriptions and they have great guidelines and training material: Image Description Training

public/nnels/etext/images/alt-text_q_a.txt · Last modified: 2021/09/14 10:00 by rachel.osolen