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MS Excel Standards

Requirements for Microsoft (MS) Excel workbooks that are developed, procured, maintained, or used under the purview of the California Department of Education (CDE).

Standards Home | Use on CDE Websites | Basic Requirements & Checks | Filename | Metadata | Text
Headings | Hyperlinks | Color | Visual Elements | Tables | Additional Requirements & Resources

Use on CDE Websites

The CDE prefers to have its websites (i.e., base domain) comprised primarily of web pages. MS Excel workbooks posted to CDE websites must have an approved use.

Approved Use

  1. Content that is at least 100 rows in length.
  2. Content that is required by law or by CDE policy to be in a specific format, layout, or to specifically be in MS Excel.
  3. Content that is already in MS Excel from an external (non-CDE) source, the source content cannot be linked to, and it would be inappropriate to convert the content into one or more CDE web pages.
  4. Content that is difficult to format as a web page, and the format in MS Excel is essential to the effectiveness of the presentation of the content.
  5. When related to a CDE funding profile and posted in the appropriate "R" folder on the primary CDE website.
  6. Workbooks used for meetings of the California State Board of Education (SBE) or its sub-committees, including agenda item attachments.

Prohibited Use

  1. Content that is data-only and intended to be imported into another application. Data-only content must be provided as a Comma Separated Value (CSV) file or as a Tab Separated Value (TSV) and not in .xlsx file format.
    1. Has a single row of headings in the first row.
  2. When used as a replacement for web pages. For example, the workbook functions as a landing page rather than as a stand-alone workbook.

Basic Requirements & Checks

File Properties & Required Elements

  1. Is saved as a .xlsx format file.
  2. Opens in a consistent and predictable manner.
    1. In Normal view.
    2. Zoom is set to 100 percent.
    3. The first worksheet (first tab) is displayed.
    4. Cell A1 has text and is selected as the active cell in all worksheets.
    5. All worksheets have content; blank worksheets are deleted.
  3. Has a metadata Title and Description (Subject) in the file Properties. See the Metadata Title & Description section for more information.
  4. Has the appropriate default language set.
  5. Text is contained in cells. No text boxes are used.
  6. A workbook title (i.e., Heading 1) is present at the top of the workbook (top of first worksheet). When possible, the workbook title should be the first item on the first worksheet. See the Headings section for more information.
  7. Content that provides attribution of ownership/authorship is present near the top or at the bottom of the first worksheet. For example, "California Department of Education," "State Board of Education," or "U.S. Department of Education."
  8. A date of authorship or of posting is present near the top or at the bottom of the first worksheet.
  9. All worksheet tabs have unique and meaningful titles that relate to the worksheet content.
  10. Each worksheet contains only one table, graph, or chart.

Recommended Elements

  1. "End of Worksheet" is present in the first cell of column A after the last row of data on each worksheet.
  2. Hide unused columns to the right of the last column used and rows below the last row used.
  3. If a workbook or worksheet is unusually complex, include instructions at the beginning of the workbook.

Features & Styles

  1. Uses the built-in MS Excel features and styles where available, including:
    1. Heading Styles are used for all headings (workbook title and section divisions). See the Headings section for more information.
    2. The Table feature is used for tabular data. See the Tables section for more information.
  2. Blank rows, columns, cells, and spaces are not used for structure or formatting. Row height and column width may be adjusted to create visual space.
  3. Comments are removed unless they are intended for viewing.

Required Checks

  1. Is free of spelling and grammar errors. Use the built-in MS Excel Spelling tool to check spelling.
  2. Is free of MS Excel accessibility checker errors. Use the bult-in MS Excel Check Accessibility tool.
    1. Warnings indicated by the MS Excel accessibility checker must be fixed unless they are verified not to be accessibility violations.
  3. Active hyperlinks are not broken. See the Hyperlinks section for more information.
  4. Is navigable in a logical and intuitive order, and all workbook functionality is available when used with keyboard only.
    1. All locked and unlocked cells must be capable of being selected and navigated with the keyboard.
    2. Keyboard focus is never locked or trapped at one particular document element. The user can navigate to and from all navigable elements using only a keyboard.
  5. Vital content contained in a page header, page footer, or watermark is duplicated in the body of the workbook.
  6. Is free of content that relies solely upon shape, size, visual location, color, or sound to convey meaning.
  7. All other CDE content adheres to the CDE Style Manual.
    1. Exception: Abbreviations do not need to be spelled out upon first use in the metadata Title. See the Metadata Title & Description section for more information.
    2. Exception: Abbreviations do not need to be spelled out upon first use in a heading if doing so makes the heading excessively long. Abbreviations not spelled out in headings need to be spelled out at the next available opportunity.
  8. The Inspect Document tool is used to remove the following:
      1. Exception: Do not remove Comments if Comments are intended for viewing.
    2. Document Properties and Personal Information
    3. Hidden Names
    4. Hidden Rows and Columns
    5. Invisible Content

    Note: Using the Inspect Document tool removes both the metadata title and description. See the Metadata Title & Description section for more information.

Recommended Checks

  1. Works with common screen readers (e.g., Narrator, Immersive Reader, JAWS, NVDA).
  2. Works well on all devices, including phones and tablets.


MS Excel workbooks posted to CDE websites (i.e., base domain) have filenames that are created in a consistent manner by adhering to the following:

  1. Is less than or equal to 24 characters.
  2. To the extent possible, relates to the workbook title.
  3. Does not use spaces or symbols other than hyphen ( - ).
  4. Starts with an alphabetic character.
  5. Is all lowercase.

Metadata Title & Description

Note: Metadata standards for workbooks related to CDE Funding Profiles and for workbooks posted to State Special Schools and Diagnostic Centers websites differ from those for other CDE workbooks, and are available to CDE staff on the CDE Intranet website.

Metadata Title

Note: The metadata Title is the Title in the workbook File Properties.

  1. Is unique on its website.
  2. Is concise, identifies the workbook, and is similar to the H1 title of the workbook.
  3. Uses title case.
  4. Only uses abbreviations if they are defined within the metadata Title or if there is not enough space to spell out whole words.
    1. If not defined in the metadata Title, abbreviations must be defined in the metadata Description.

Additional Requirements for Workbooks Posted to the Main CDE or the CDE Intranet Websites

Note: The Main CDE website is The CDE Intranet website is

  1. Has a metadata title that is comprised of the following three parts:
    1. Document Title: The Document Title meets the following:
      1. Is less than or equal to 50 characters, inclusive of spaces and punctuation.
      2. Is followed by one space, a hyphen, and one space.
    2. Sub-sub-topic: The name of the directory where the workbook is housed follows the Document Title, and is followed by one space. Most workbooks are housed at the Sub-sub-topic level. If the workbook is housed at the Sub-topic level, use the Sub-topic name instead.
    3. Website: The name of the website is enclosed in parentheses.
      1. Use (CA Dept of Education) for the Main CDE website.
      2. Use (CDE Intranet) for the CDE Intranet website.

Example Metadata Title for a Workbook Posted to a CDE Website: Friendships and Mental Health Data - Mental Health (CA Dept of Education)

Metadata Description

Note: The metadata Description is the Subject in the workbook File Properties.

  1. Uses up to 250 characters (inclusive of spaces and punctuation) to describe the presentation, its audience, and purpose or usage. Can be a sentence, multiple sentences, or sentence fragments.
  2. Is not a mere restatement of the title.
  3. Defines any abbreviations not spelled out in the metadata Title and any abbreviation used in the metadata Description.
  4. Ends with a period.


This section contains general standards for all MS Excel workbooks and additional standards for those developed by or on behalf of CDE for consistency.

  1. Uses text, not images of text. See the Visual Elements section for more information.
  2. Uses fonts that are easy to read and that are available on most devices.
    1. Text must be readable and functional when resized up to 200%.
    2. All characters are Unicode values.
  3. Uses Office Equation Editor (Office Math Markup Language [OMML]) or MathML for mathematical equations.
  4. Whenever possible, semantic text is used instead of special characters, symbols.
    1. Examples:
      1. "Yes/No" is used instead of "Y/N."
      2. "X" (or any other symbol) is not used to mean applicable.
      3. "0," "none" or "N/A," is used instead of a blank space to convey "zero," "nothing," or "not applicable."
    2. When special characters or symbols are used (including letters as symbols), the symbols are defined on or before their first use.
      1. Exception: Asterisks do not need to be defined when used for standard notes.
  5. Does not use device-specific words (e.g., click, hover) when there is an available alternative (e.g., select, navigate).
  6. When formatting such as strikethrough is added to text, the meaning of the formatting is explained in a bracketed note immediately after the formatted text.
    1. Extensive use of strikethrough or similar formatting requires indications of where the formatting begins and ends (e.g., diff-marking).
    2. Note: As an alternative to strikethrough and diff-marking, consider using a comparison table that shows the original text compared with the modified text. This works well for long sections of modified language, such as changes in law.

Additional Requirements when Developed by or on Behalf of CDE

  1. Uses 12-point font or larger.
  2. Uses Arial font.
    1. Exception: Content that is in a language other than English may use other fonts when necessary, as long as the font is comparable in readability to Arial 12-point font or larger.
  3. Underlines are not used except with active hyperlinks.
    1. Exception: Underlines may be used to indicate the text of laws or regulations that are being added, modified, or deleted as prescribed by the California Office of Administrative Law.
  4. All caps are not used unless for acronyms and initialisms.
  5. Large sections of bold or italicized text are not used.
  6. Justified text alignment is not used.


  1. Increase visual spacing around text by increasing column width and row height.


  1. Uses the built-in MS Excel styles Heading 1 through Heading 4 to identify the workbook title and section divisions in the workbook.
    1. Visual alterations of text are not used in place of heading styles to indicate the workbook title and section divisions. Text that is not the workbook title or section division does not use heading styles.
    2. Heading styles are not combined with other formatting, such as hyperlinks or table headers.
      1. Exception: Italics are permitted when otherwise required, but not for additional emphasis.
    3. The built-in MS Excel Title style is not used.
    4. Custom heading style names, including those that are mapped to the built-in heading styles, are not permitted.
  2. Heading levels are used in a hierarchical order (most important to least important) throughout the workbook as a whole, or worksheet by worksheet, depending on the organization of the workbook.
    1. Standard: Heading 1 is used for the overarching workbook title in cell A1 on Sheet 1. Subsequent worksheets have a Heading 2 in cell A1.
    2. Variant: Each worksheet title within a workbook is independent from one another and has a Heading 1 in cell A1.
    3. When the workbook is a sub-section of a larger set of files, the main title of the complete set of files must be included as part of the Heading 1 on worksheet 1. For example, "Attachment 1" is not a sufficient workbook title on its own, since it clearly implies that the workbook is part of something larger.
  3. Each heading level maintains consistent formatting throughout the workbook (e.g., all heading 2s are formatted the same throughout the workbook).
  4. Visual hierarchy of headings corresponds with the actual hierarchy of the headings. For example, using formatting such as text size and weight, a Heading 1 will be visually more impressive than a Heading 2, and so on.


  1. Headings use Title Case.
  2. Headings are not followed by a colon or period.


At the CDE, MS Excel workbooks can use either hyperlinked descriptive text, hyperlinked Uniform Resource Locators (URLs), or both. Generally, descriptive links are best, however linked URLs may be more useful in workbooks that will be printed.

All Hyperlinks

  1. Hyperlinks are not broken. A hyperlink is considered broken if it does not resolve to the indicated content or returns an HTTP 404 error.
  2. Hyperlinks are used and styled (including color) consistently throughout the workbook.
  3. Hyperlinks with the same linked text or the same URL resolve to the same destination.
    1. Exception: Tables may contain multiple hyperlinks with the same hyperlink text but different underlying destinations, as long as they are defined by table row.
      1. Example: 'Add,' 'Edit,' 'Delete' links are often used in a table 'Action' column.
  4. Hyperlinks are underlined and have sufficient color contrast to distinguish them visibly from non-hyperlinked content. See the Color section for more information.
  5. Use hyperlinked descriptive text rather than hyperlinked URLs unless there is a need to use hyperlinked URLs.
  6. Avoid using words and phrases that indicate the hyperlink is a link. For example, do not include "link," "link to," or "this link goes to" in hyperlinked descriptive text or in a link's ScreenTip.
  7. Very short adjacent hyperlinks have sufficient size or adequate whitespace between them.
  8. Although not usually recommended in MS Excel workbooks, hyperlinks may contain date notations. See the Link Notations sub-section for more information.

Hyperlinked Descriptive Text

  1. Hyperlink text by itself provides a clear and concise description of the link destination (e.g., no “click here” or “more” links).
    1. Recommendation: If the title on the hyperlink's destination web page gives an accurate summary, consider using it for the hyperlink text.
  2. Hyperlinks that point to a domain (e.g., is a domain) that is different from the host domain of the MS Excel workbook, indicate the external source in the hyperlinked descriptive text or in a link notation. See the Link Notations sub-section for more information. See the Link Notations sub-section for more information.

URLs and Email Addresses

  1. All URLs and email addresses are active hyperlinks.
    1. Exception: Public comments must not include active hyperlinks.
    2. Exception: Data within tables (optional, be consistent).
    3. Exception: Stricken, inactivated, and noted as a broken link.
  2. Descriptive text is added to the hyperlinked URL's ScreenTip.
  3. URLs begin with "https://" protocol.
  4. The visible URL or email address is the same as the underlying URL or email address.
  5. URL length may be reduced by using the following URL shortening service:
    1. bitly

Link Notations

Some hyperlinks require linked meta information to provide users of assistive technology with pertinent details about the hyperlinks. This is referred to as link notation. Structuring link notation consistently throughout a workbook is recommended. Link notations may be comprised of the following two elements, in the following order:

  • External Source (Required if applicable.)
  • Date & Modifier (Optional)

External Source

  1. Is only used with hyperlinked descriptive text, not with hyperlinked URLs.
  2. Hyperlinks that point to a domain (e.g., is a domain) that is different from the host domain of the MS Excel workbook, and do not contain the external source in the hyperlinked descriptive text, use either the actual external source (e.g., US Department of Education) or "External Link" in the link notation.

Date & Modifier

The addition of a date in Excel workbooks is not recommended but is optional and may be used with any kind of hyperlink. Date link notations must adhere to the following, if used:

  1. Follows the DD-Mmm-YYYY or Mmm-YYYY format.
  2. Is prepended with one of the following modifiers:
    1. Certified
    2. Corrected
    3. Dated
    4. Effective
    5. Modified
    6. New (May be used for 60 days or less.)
    7. Notice Published
    8. Posted
    9. Published
    10. Recertified
    11. Revised
    12. Suspended
    13. Updated

Coming Soon

"Coming Soon" is not link notation but may be used similarly with text that will become a link within 60 days.

  1. Bold is applied to text that will become a link.
  2. "Coming Soon" is placed within parentheses, one space after the text that will become a link. "(Coming Soon)" is not bold.

Link Notation Formatting

  1. Link notations are included as part of the associated hyperlink.
  2. Link notations are placed in parentheses, one space after the hyperlink text or URL.
  3. All applicable link notation elements are separated by a semicolon and a space.

Link Examples

Note: This section contains examples of links in an MS Excel workbook to a different MS Excel workbook. They are styled to look like hyperlinks but are not functional.

  1. US Department of Education Web Workbook Name
    1. Note: This example does not require a link notation since the source is included in the hyperlinked descriptive text.
  2. Web Workbook Name (US Department of Education)
  3. Web Workbook Name (External; Added Sep-2023)
  4. https://www.sampledomain/sampleworkbook.xlsx (Posted 05-Sep-2023)
    1. Note: This example requires a link notation because of the inclusion of a posted date.
  5. Web Workbook Name (Coming Soon)


  1. Color alone does not convey meaning.
    1. Non-text content (e.g., visual elements) use patterns to convey the same information as color.
  2. Ensure sufficient color contrast between all content that conveys meaning and its background, with a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1.
    1. Exception: Text that is considered large-scale (i.e., at least 18 point or at least 14 point and bold) must meet a lesser contrast ratio of 3:1, at minimum.
    2. Exception: Non-text elements have a contrast ratio of at least 3:1 against adjacent colors.
    3. Exception: If a non-text element is accompanied by contrast-conformant text that conveys the same information as the non-text element, there is no required contrast ratio between adjacent colors.
      1. Example: Though not recommended, a pie chart with minimal contrast between adjacent colors is acceptable as long as each pie wedge has contrast-conformant labels that convey the same information.
    4. Exception: Text and non-text elements that are part of a logo or brand name have no contrast requirement.
    5. When there is a mixed or gradient background, measure color contrast at the point with the least contrast to determine compliance.
    6. Applies to all hyperlink states (e.g., visited, unvisited).
  3. Ensure sufficient color contrast between hyperlink text and non-hyperlink text, with a contrast ratio of at least 3:1. See the Recommendations sub-section for more information.


  1. For consistency, most MS Excel workbooks should predominantly use a black font on a white background.
  2. For consistency, if using red as an alert, a reminder, or a warning, use Boston University Red (#CC0000 or Red Green Blue [rgb] 204,0,0).
  3. While standard hyperlink blue is not required, it is the most expected color for hyperlinks and helps with usability. For consistency, use a medium-dark shade of cyan-blue (#0563C1 or Red Green Blue [rgb] 5,99,193) for hyperlink text.

Visual Elements

CDE defines visual elements as objects such as charts, diagrams, figures, flow charts, graphics, illustrations, images, maps, organizational charts, photos, and shapes. Only the following Visual Elements are permitted in CDE MS Excel workbooks.

  1. Excel charts and graphs may be used if they are based upon data within the workbook and adhere to the following guidelines:
    1. The Chart Title field (chart element) is used for a descriptive chart or graph title.
    2. Data labels are clear and useful.
    3. Has equivalent text in the form of alternative text, adjacent text, or a long description. Equivalent text indicates the tab name and cell range where the visual element's supporting data can be found within the workbook. Alternative text is placed in the Description field of the Alternative Text dialog box, not in the Title field.
      1. Alternative Text: Where an Alt Text field is available, alternative text is added to the Alt Text field. Alternative text is sufficient if it describes the content and purpose of the visual element equivalently in 30 words or less. If alternative text alone cannot provide full equivalency, it must be combined with adjacent text or a long description.
      2. Adjacent Text: Text adjacent to the visual element describes the content and purpose of the visual element equivalently. Alternative text is added to provide the name of the visual element and indicates where the associated adjacent text or data table is located. If alternative text alone is not sufficient, and adjacent text is not preferred, practical or possible, a long description must be used.
      3. Long Description: Text or a data table that is located anywhere other than adjacent to the visual element that provides content that is fully equivalent to the visual element, and Alternative Text is added to the visual element that provides the name of the visual element and the location of the nearby hyperlink to the long description. An active hyperlink adjacent to the visual element is present with hyperlink text that names the visual element and indicates the hyperlink leads to a long description of the visual element. An active hyperlink adjacent to the long description leads back to the Excel workbook, and directly to the visual element if possible.
  2. Organizational logos may be used.
  3. Watermarks may be used if similar text is provided in the body of the document and there are no color contrast issues created by the inclusion of the watermark.


  1. MS Excel built-in table element (Insert > Table) is used for tabular data; no images of tables are used.
  2. The title or broad nature of the table is provided using a heading, Table Name, or alternative text.
  3. No more than one table is used on any worksheet.
  4. Tables must be simple and have regularity.

    Until MS Excel is capable of making complex tables accessible, do not include complex tables. Complex tables should be simplified or split into multiple simple tables (tables with regularity), on separate worksheets. Ensure that tables have regularity per the following guidelines:

    1. Tables contain one single column header row as the first row, and have no intermediary sub-headers (rows used to delineate sub-sections of a table, including sub-total rows).
    2. Column headers are appropriately identified by ensuring "My table has headers" is selected in the Create Table dialog box.
    3. Tables contain no blank cells, columns, or rows.
      1. Exception: The last row in a table may have blank cells if the row is being used as a totals row where one or more of the cells is used to total column data. The first cell of the last row must have "Total" or a similar word or phrase.
      2. Exception: Cells using MS Excel form fields or form controls. See the Forms Standards (Coming Soon) for more information.
    4. Tables contain no merged or split cells.
    5. Tables do not use visual-only formatting or alignment (e.g., all caps, bold, italics, and indenting) to convey data association or hierarchy.


  1. Avoid fixed width tables and columns, so that tables render properly on all devices and Magnifier works without horizontal scrolling.
  2. When a worksheet's tabular data extend beyond the visible area of the average computer monitor, consider using one or more of MS Excel's Freeze Pane tools, so key column headings or row content will remain visible.
  3. Column headers are repeated at the top of each page when printed by ensuring column header rows are included in "Rows to repeat at top" in the Page Setup dialog box.

Additional Requirements & Resources

  • CDE's Accessibility Standards
    Requirements for all CDE content, including MS Excel workbooks.
  • CDE Forms Standards (Coming Soon)
    Requirements for forms that are developed, procured, maintained, or used under the purview of the CDE, including guidance and examples for form use in MS Excel workbooks.
  • CDE Standards References
    The CDE's MS Excel Standards are built on the guidance of a number of highly regarded authorities in information and communications technology (ICT) accessibility. See specific references used in developing our MS Excel Standards.
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Last Reviewed: Tuesday, October 10, 2023
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