My Approach to Alt Text

I ran across a survey from Tilburg University on the experiences and perspectives of image describers. It asked what process I follow to write image alternative text, and it occurred to me that I don’t use a checklist or guideline anymore. That may or may not be a good thing, but since I’ve been told that my alternative text is generally good for the context (more than once but not always), I thought it might be useful to scribble what I generally do.

Useful for the next time I am asked, useful for readers to correct me, useful for other readers to borrow, useful for me to amend, and so on.

My Approach

The original WGBH “Closed Captioning” symbol, representing a television, but the CC has been replaced with ALT.

Broadly, when talking about images in narrative content that are not also iconography or used as part of interactive controls…

This incomplete list is not meant to suggest other guidance is wrong or less than ideal. Writing alternative text is not a technical exercise (at least, not beyond basic WCAG conformance); it is copywriting tailored to your audience and constraints. There should be as much care and consideration as all the other plain text content on the page (or social media post or whatever).

Further Reading

Some reference material:

My stuff:

If you have your own favorite resources or techniques, then please share.



I need to get better at front loading my alt text. Thanks for the reminder that there’s always more to learn!


Many thanks for this article.
I really like jacks post:
Writing great alt text: Emotion matters
and Leonie’s post:
Text descriptions and emotion rich images

In response to Christian Cousquer. Reply

I should have linked Léonie’s because as a screen reader user she has the kind of first-hand experience that many others don’t. I also should have linked Eric Bailey’s Your Image Is Probably Not Decorative as well (he is a practitioner too).

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