Skip to main content
California Department of Education Logo

Web Documents

Important Notice
These standards apply to content posted prior to January 18, 2018 that has not been subsequently edited or updated. Visit the main CDE Web Standards for the current standards.

This page is part of the California Department of Education (CDE) Web Design Standards, which only applies to specific CDE Web sites. Visit the CDE Web Standards to determine if these standards apply to a specific Web product (Web site, Web page, Web document, or Web application) that has been developed by or for the CDE.

Most Web pages (not including Web applications) on all CDE Web sites are created using Adobe's Contribute software templates. WebNETS, which is a custom software application that was created by CDE staff, is also necessary in order to create and process most Web pages on the CDE's public Internet site. Portions of these standards, where noted, apply only to CDE users of Contribute or WebNETS software; or to Web application developers.

Return to Design Standards

The preferred format for posting content to CDE Web sites is Web pages (e.g., .asp, .aspx, .html, etc.) because of the high level of accessibility that they provide to users. Web documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF, etc.) are considerably less accessible.

Use of Adobe's Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF) creates unique problems. Consequently, there are additional expectations when this format is used. In fact, while allowed on CDE Web sites, we discourage the use altogether of PDF documents whenever possible.

Microsoft Word (Word) and Microsoft Excel (Excel) documents are considered more accessible than PDF files, but are not considered as accessible as Web pages.

This section of the Design Standards provides the standards for using Web documents on CDE Web sites.

Section 1 - Defines when and what kind of Web documents can be used.
Section 2 - Contains the standards for Web documents when they are allowed.

Section 1 Approved Use of Web Documents

  • The approved Web document formats are Word (.doc/.docx [additional requirements for .docx--see below]), Excel (.xls), PowerPoint (.ppt) and Acrobat Portable Document Format (.pdf). Exceptions to these are documents that are legally required to be in a different specific format.
  • Web documents that have been created in non-approved Web document formats must be converted to or recreated as Web pages or in approved Web document formats. If there is a need to use a Web document format that is not specifically allowed by these standards, please consult with the Web Services Office at
  • If a non-CDE Web document exists on a non-CDE Web site (i.e., the URL does not include "cde" and the site does not have the CDE "look and feel"), a link from the CDE site should point to the externally located Web document. External Web documents should not be added to and become part of CDE Web sites. Among other reasons, this should ensure that we are linked to the most current version of the document.
  • While Web documents may contain hyperlinks, they may never be used to duplicate the functionality of a Web page. See the Hyperlinks section of these Design Standards for more information.

Web Documents that Can be Used

Required - Required when posting this document type.
Optional - Can be an optional second choice for users when a required document format is also available
- Can be used for this document type with no alternative required.

Item Document Type MS Word PDF* Other Formats


Documents that are fifteen (15) pages or more in length in their native format. PowerPoint presentations of any length are not considered documents with "pages". This clause does not apply to PowerPoint.

Web page Recommended; Word is OK

OK if native format is not Word

Excel OK if native format is Excel


CDE print publications (e.g., books, brochures, flyers)

(recommended format)

(Web page or Word alternative recommended)



Forms designed to be downloaded, completed offline and printed by users





Forms designed to be downloaded, completed on the computer and printed by users.



Excel may be used instead of DOC1


Documents that must be edited, completed, or saved by the user, including fillable forms, that DO NOT CONTAIN calculations.





Documents that must be edited, completed, or saved by the user, including fillable forms, that CONTAIN calculations.



(recommended format)


Data documents (i.e., spreadsheets) whose data are not accommodated by the CDE wide data template (Contribute template) or are greater than five screens in length at 1024 x 768 resolution.



Excel OK if native format is Excel


Documents that require formatting in such a way that creating a Web page is not a viable alternative. For example:

  • Documents that contain a single-spaced, multiple-row table greater than three printed pages in length.
  • Documents from an external source that must be posted to the CDE site, where it would be inappropriate for CDE to convert the document to the look and feel of the CDE Web site.3
  • Documents with exceptionally complex layout that cannot be translated to a Web page format and whose layout is essential to its effectiveness.

Required if native format is Word

OK if native format is not Word

Excel OK if native format is Excel


Documents required by law or CDE policy to be in a specific file format or layout

Most formats are OK

Most formats are OK
Most formats are OK


PowerPoint presentations require an Accessible Alternate Version whenever a PPT file is posted to the CDE Web site. However, if an accessible PDF is posted instead of a PPT, no AAV is necessary and page length restrictions on the use of PDF are waived.

Except in training situations where the posted PPT will be used for subsequent presentations, replacement with an accessible PDF is strongly recommended.

Optional additional version only.

Recommended as a replacement version for PPT. Waives AAV and all page number requirements if used instead of PPT.

OK as an optional additional version if PPT and AAV are both present.


Training manuals, software guides, and other reference documents that benefit from the inclusion of screenshots (screen capture) for demonstration purposes. These documents must fully describe what is being demonstrated in the screenshots within the document's regular content. Also, basic alternative text must be included that gives a brief description of the screenshots. Documents have been properly created if the screenshots can be removed and the document still makes sense and fulfills its purpose. Whenever screenshots are added to documents of this type, the documents should be written without the screenshots included and then the screenshots should be added without adjusting the main content (transition statements and sub-headings or caption text that reference the screenshots are excepted).
OK, if Word or PDF are not appropriate.

* PDF documents must adhere strictly to the standards in Section 2 of this document (see below).
If the form requires calculations, Excel may be used instead of Word. However, Word documents should be used in most cases.
2 Completed form cannot be saved with Adobe reader.
3 Where possible, CDE should link to these documents on the external source's Web site.

Section 2 All Web Documents Must:

  1. Comply with these CDE standards:
    1. CDE Style Manual (CDE Intranet)
    2. CDE Correspondence Guide (CDE Intranet)
  2. Contain metadata created according to the Web Document Metadata section of these Web Design Standards.
  3. Be accessible including the following:
    1. Color may not be used to convey information. For example, you would not say something like: "Please read all items in red."
    2. Visual styles such as bold or italics may not be used to convey information. These styles may not be used to alert users that changes or modifications have been made to a document. For example, you would not say: "The following paragraphs in italics indicate changes to this manual", or "Please review all changes highlighted in bold."
    3. Have alternative text (alt tags) for all images.
    4. All content (text and graphics) that conveys information must be available as text or alternative text, or an Accessible Alternative Version is required.
  4. Include the following content somewhere within the document (the file properties, metadata, or header/footer (Word and Excel) does not suffice for this requirement):
    1. Specify that they are from the CDE unless the document is from an external entity. Documents from external entities should be linked to, instead of being housed on CDE Web servers (see above in Section 1). If an exception is made for a particular document, then the document content must indicate the source (e.g., the creator, the publisher, or the providing authority).
    2. Identify the content, such as an appropriate title. Include a description or instructions when necessary.
      1. If the content is a subsection of content that can be described with a title that encompasses all subsections, then the title for the whole must be included on each subsection.
    3. Include the date of development or modification.
  5. If developed by CDE staff or where CDE is considered the author, be formatted using standard font sizes, styles, and colors:
    1. Font style and type is Arial (normal or regular). However, Arial should be used when appropriate, but is not required for the portion of any Web document that is in a language other than English.
    2. Font size is 12pt or larger. Note that the font may be adjusted to no smaller than 11 if that will prevent the text from running slightly over onto the next page. Additionally, the font may be adjusted to 10 or smaller on large complex Excel spreadsheets to enhance printing of these types of documents. A minimum font size of 12pt. is not required for the portion of any Web document that is in a language other than English, but care should be taken to ensure that any non-English text is comparable in readability to English text of at least 12pt. Web document forms that are intended to be filled-in may use smaller fonts as appropriate.
    3. The background color is always white and the text color is always black with the following exceptions:
      1. Newsletters and publications may use other colors for artistic reasons as long as the contrast between the text and the background meets accessibility standards. Keep in mind that individuals with color-related visual problems often have difficulty viewing and discriminating between red, blue, and green.
      2. The color red may be used to highlight an alert. An alert may be a single word, short sentence, or fragment that communicates important information to the user. Red should be used sparingly. Whole paragraphs may not have the color red applied. The following examples demonstrate the appropriate use of red text:
        1. New, Revised, or Updated.
        2. Please read the instructions before completing this document.
        3. Applications must be submitted by May 1, 2005.
      3. Accent background color that is 15% or less in saturation may be used if the color contrast and brightness contrast of any text or links is tested and found to be accessible according to W3C standards.
  6. If developed by non-CDE staff and attributable to another organization:
    1. Common legible fonts must be used.
    2. Font size should be reasonably large.
    3. The difference between background color and foreground color (font color) must be considered accessible following the guidelines of the W3C.
  7. In addition, PDF documents must be:
    1. Optimized (fast Web view).
    2. Tagged for accessibility.
    3. Created with bookmarks if the document is a multi-page document with sections or is more than 15 pages in length.
    4. PDF documents that have been scanned rather than converted from an electronic document must either have an Accessible Alternative Version (AAV) or utilize Adobe Acrobat's OCR feature. If the OCR feature is used, the Downsample Image Mode must either be "Formatted Text and Graphics" or "Searchable Image (Exact)". In either mode, all text from the scanned original must be available as selectable text, be setup to read in the correct order, and be free of OCR errors.
    5. Organized so they read in the proper order.
    6. If developed by CDE staff or where CDE is considered the author, the PDF content must be available in the format of the original authoring tool (Word, Publisher, etc.) and kept in a location where multiple staff can access the file (e.g., a shared drive).
    7. PDF documents should be created using the Adobe engine and not Adobe distiller. If distiller is used, annotations must be created for all hyperlinks.
  8. In addition, Word documents must be:
    1. Created without any unaccepted changes within the "Track Changes" feature. Failure to do this can allow outsiders to view the edits from the review of the document. The Track Changes feature must be turned off.
    2. If posted as a .docx file, the Word document must be fully compliant with Web Content Accessibility Group (WCAG) 2.0 guidelines. The person creating the Word document that will be posted as .docx is responsible for learning what is required for compliance. If the .docx file is not fully compliant with WCAG 2.0, it can't be posted to the CDE Web site. A couple of good resources related to Word accessibility are:
      1. The accessibility checker that is built into Word and fix all errors.
      2. The WebAIM resource about Microsoft Word External link opens in new window or tab..
  9. Adhere to the following guidelines for official graphics:
    1. Use the CDE approved seal and logos when appropriate. Other seals and logos are not generally allowed. Use of the CDE seal or logos must be approved during the appropriate approval process for the Internet (DEAM 3900) and Intranet (Intranet Content Approval Standards) Web sites.
  10. Adhere to the following concerning the opening view of the document:
    1. For all documents, the view size should be set to 100%.
    2. For all documents, the document should be saved so that the cursor, selection, and/or starting view is the very beginning of the document.
    3. Excel documents should be set to open with the first (leftmost) workbook tab pre-selected.
    4. Excel documents should be set so that the selected cell within each tab is either the upper-leftmost of the spreadsheet, or the first user-fillable cell within the spreadsheet.
    5. Word documents should be set to open in Print View.
    6. PDF documents that contain bookmarks (per 7c above or otherwise), should be set to open with the bookmarks panel visible.
  11. Adhere to the following concerning the type and version of the documents:
    1. Microsoft Word documents saved as Word 97-2003 Document with the .doc file extension or saved with the .docx extension [if .docx is used, be sure to note the requirement in Item 8b above.]
    2. Microsoft Excel documents saved as Excel 97-2003 Workbook with the .xls file extension.
    3. Microsoft PowerPoint presentations saved as PowerPoint 97-2003 Presentation with the .ppt file extension.

For the Internet

Multiple Formats

When multiple formats of a single document are offered to users, all formats must be submitted together in the same WebNETS package. For example, a change made in only one of three formats of a particular document would require that all three formats be submitted, even if no changes were made to two of them.

Links on Web documents

When creating links within Web documents such as PDF or Word files, avoid creating links to other Web documents. Contribute will not upload a Web document that is not linked from a Web page because Contribute uploads Web documents as the Web Page Creator creates or modifies the link on a Web page.

Questions:   Web Services Office |
Last Reviewed: Friday, June 26, 2020
Related Content
  • Color
    The Color section of the California Department of Education's Web Design Standards.
  • Images
    The Images section of the California Department of Education's Web Design Standards.
  • Link Notations
    This is the Link Notations Section of the California Department of Education's Web Design Standards.
  • Text Styles
    The Text Styles section of the California Department of Education's Web Design Standards.
Recently Posted in Department Information
No items posted in the last 60 days.