Canvas provides a wide variety of options for styling your course content, which are found in the Rich Content Editor. Some of these are simple and similar to what you would find in word processing software (for example, bold or underlined text). Others are important ways to utilize Canvas as an online tool (for example, embedding media). Many enhance the readability and accessibility of your course. And nearly all make it more interesting. This article discusses some of the more significant features of the Rich Content Editor and how to use them effectively.

What is the Rich Content Editor?

The Rich Content Editor, or RCE, is found nearly everywhere you can create or edit content on Canvas. (Quizzes may vary.) It is the array of formatting buttons available to you when you are creating material. Typically, on a laptop or desktop monitor, it looks like this:

Screenshot of a blank Canvas editor showing the Rich Content Editor menus and icons.
The Rich Content Editor

If you have a very narrow screen, you may see a more abbreviated version of the RCE. If buttons appear to be “missing,” click the three-dot menu to see all the collapsed options.

A narrower version of the Rich Content Editor, with some icons missing. An icon of three dots arranged vertically is circled in red.
RCE on a smaller screen or browser window

If you’ve ever used Canvas before — even as a student creating discussion posts — this should look very familiar. It is the part of the Canvas interface that stays the same whether you are creating a discussion prompt, a post, an assignment, a page, or your syllabus.

Basic Functions of the RCE

The most basic functions of the RCE are text formatting options that are nearly identical to what you would find in Word or Google Docs. This includes options like bold, italic, underlined, or strikethrough text; text color and highlighting; heading options; font size and face; text alignment and indentation; bullets and numbering; and certain math and code display options. The most common formatting options are found in the toolbar (remember, if your screen is narrow some of these icons may be hidden):

Screenshot of the toolbar in the Rich Content Editor with certain groups of icons circled and labeled in red

Notice that to the right of many of the icons, there is an arrow pointing down. This indicates that you can select from multiple options. This article will not describe the functions of each of these icons because they are nearly identical to common word processing software.

There are more text and document formatting options that do not appear as icons. The “Format” menu, found above the toolbar, has many additional, less common formatting options. These include (for example) code formatting for clearly displaying computer code, strikethroughs, and font faces. There is also an option to insert formatted math equations, which is found in the “Insert” menu.

Best Practices

Text formatting can help engage your user and call their attention to certain parts of the content. We recommend using the following:

  • Headings (the drop-down that shows as “paragraph” in the example image)
  • Bold or underlined text
  • Bulleted lists
  • Indentation to set off blocks of text

We do not recommend the following, which may create accessibility issues:

  • Changing the font color
  • Text highlighting
  • Changing the font face (except for the Code option, in appropriate cases)
  • Changing the font size instead of using headings

If you would like to know more about document formatting best practices, why headings are important, and why changing font color or face is not recommended, check our article on document accessibility.

Using the RCE to Embed Media and Links

You can drag and drop some kinds of media, like images and documents, directly into the RCE (although you may need to make some adjustments to things like image size). This method can be a time-saver, especially for uploads. However, in many cases you will still need to use the RCE toolbar and menus to add media that is not on your computer or control how things are displayed.


In the middle of the icon toolbar, you will see a set of icons that allow you to display different kinds of media in Canvas:

Embedding- and media-related icons from the Rich Content Editor

From left to right as shown here, here’s what they mean:

  • Chain links: add or edit a link (see below for an important note about links)
  • Image: embed an image from the web or by uploading
  • Media player with music note: upload and embed video or audio from your computer, or record directly into Canvas
  • Document: upload a document and create a preview link
  • Google Drive logo: embed a document, slides, or another item from your Google Drive
  • Video screen with appendages/tentacles: embed from Canvas Studio
  • Plug: embed content from an integrated app (including the YouTube search tool)

In most cases, Canvas walks you through the use of each tool. These tools are also available through the “Insert” menu above the icon toolbar.

Other Ways to Add Materials and Media

The manual embed tool is extremely useful if you want to embed an unlisted video from YouTube or media from another site (like Prezi or TED). It appears in the “Insert” menu as an icon of a cloud, and may also appear in the extra (collapsed) icons you can access by clicking the three-dot menu at the far right of the icon toolbar. To learn how to use it, check our article on embedding media.

One other type of material you can insert is a table, which appears in both the “Insert” menu and the icon toolbar. We do not cover inserting tables here because legitimate reasons for using tables in Canvas are rare. If you want to create a data table for your students, use the table tool, which is similar to creating a table in Word or Google Docs. Do not use tables to create layouts.

Embedding media allows you to distribute non-text materials like lecture videos in an easy-to-use, contextualized way. Make sure embedded media items are accessible, with captions for videos and alt-text for images. If you have specific questions about how to use any of these tools, consult the Canvas Instructor Guide’s section on the RCE, or make an appointment with the CLT.

Regarding links: when you click the link icon (shown above), you will have the option to add an “external link” or a “course link.” If you are linking to something in your Canvas course, use the course link option. Course links point within the course, and will still work if you import the course in a future semester. The external link option allows you to paste in a URL, which is appropriate for linking to something outside Canvas.

Advanced Functions of the RCE

The options covered here are by no means the limit of the RCE. If you have experience with HTML, you can choose to edit anything you’re creating in Canvas as HTML. You can access the HTML editor from the icons below the content editing box; choose the one that looks like </>.

Cropped screenshot of a row of icons. An icon of </> is circled in red.
Accessing the HTML editor

There are limits on what you can do with HTML in Canvas (and you cannot create or edit CSS).

Advanced users who are working closely with the CLT may request information about how to use the Style Guide, Champlain’s custom CSS classes in Canvas. The Style Guide includes options like styled headings, flip-cards, sticky notes, and a grid layout system. You must have knowledge of HTML, and the ability to edit your Canvas content in the HTML editor, to use these features. Contact the CLT for more information.

Other Features

One final feature that is very helpful is the accessibility checker, which runs a basic accessibility check on the item you’re creating. You can find it below the content editing box, where it appears as an icon of a person inside a circle:

Finding the Accessibility Checker

This tool can help you quickly spot accessibility issues in a single item. If you want to check your entire course for accessibility, please contact the CLT for information about using a different tool called UDOIT.

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