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Gemma Copeland

Writing alt text

I really enjoy writing alt-text, mainly thanks to the wonderful Alt-Text as Poetry project by Bojana Coklyat and Shannon Finnegan.

On their website they list “three ideas from the world of poetry that we have found to be particularly helpful when writing alt-text”:

1. Attention to Language

Simply by writing alt-text with thought and care, we shift the process. What words are we using? What are their connotations? What is the tone of our writing (the way in which we’re doing the writing)? What is the voice (who the reader hears)? How do these align with, or contrast, the tone and perspective of the image?

2. Word Economy

People who are new to description have a tendency to over-describe images. While there are times for long and lavish descriptions, alt-text usually aims for brevity. For most images, one to two sentences will do. Poetry has a lot to teach us about paring down language to create something that is expressive, yet concise.

3. Experimental Spirit

We have so much to learn from poetry about being more playful and exploratory in how we write alt-text. We are not interested in experimentation for experimentation’s sake — we want a kind of experimentation that moves towards better and more nuanced accessibility for alt-text users. There are lots of complex and interesting questions that come up when translating visual information into text. We need to try out different ways of doing this, learning from each other’s strategies and techniques.