Writing Effective Alternative Text for Educational Content: Best Practices for Reducing Cognitive Load

Handouts Media

Presented at 2:00pm in Meadowbrook I on Friday, November 22, 2019.



  • Valerie Morrison, E-Text Manager, Center for Inclusive Design and Innovation

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Lecture
  • Expertise Level: Beginner
  • Type of session: General Conference


Finding the balance between providing too much and too little information in your image description is the key when describing images with educational content. Best practices for reducing cognitive load will help you write alternative text for complex charts, diagrams, and infographics that is effective, clear, and accessible.


Writing alternative text for images can sometimes be a complex and subjective experience. This presentation will walk you through the basics of how to approach alternative text writing for educational content, when being thorough, informative, and clear are paramount. How much information is too much, and what kinds of details should be included to provide access to photographs, charts, infographics, and diagrams?

A brief overview of research into cognitive load will be followed by best practices for writing effective alternative text for educational images. This presentation will include tips for organizing information and syntax for greater clarity, as well as providing templates you can refer to when needing to describe various types of images, including STEM content. You will be learning the best practices for crafting meaningful and concise alternative text that reduces the cognitive load of the end user, allowing for enhanced retention and better learning outcomes.


  1. Research on cognitive load can help inform your decisions when writing alternative text for images.
  2. Identifying the context and purpose of an image allows you to determine how much information to include.
  3. Examples of alternative text will be provided with tips for streamlining for clarity and better retention.

Disability Areas

All Areas

Topic Areas

Accessible Course Design, Accessible Educational Materials, Alternate Format, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Valerie Morrison

Valerie Morrison manages the E-Text department at CIDI, the Center for Inclusive Design & Innovation (formerly AMAC Accessibility). She's specialized in E-Text production since 2012, and focuses on making accessible textbooks for students with print-related disabilities. Before working at CIDI, Valerie earned her doctorate in English and served as an instructor of composition, contemporary poetry, American and British literature, and the postmodern novel. As an academic, her main interest was in the content of books, and not so much on how accessible they were or how they functioned on digital platforms. Now her focus is on providing educational materials to all students and finding new ways to transform textbooks into accessible digital formats.