This weekend at a small gathering of friends, I finally discovered who to blame for the question of which font to use: English composition courses and style handbooks. Believe it or not (and this explains how literarily geeky the crowd was) there was a debate about which style guide (Chicago, MLA, etc.) was best and which font to recommend to their students. It was at this point that I realized the source of my troubles. For many years, I have not had a preference concerning what font was used in submissions so long as it was readable (as one attendee put it, don’t use the “Thriller” font with her and you’ll be alright). And yet I find myself consistently asked this question at nearly every conference I attend. Now I know I can blame those courses where you actually lose points off your grade for using the “wrong” one. I’m here to tell you that you won’t lose any points from me on a query for using a particular font. As long as I can read it without crossing my eyes.

Now, the point size of the font in question — that’s an altogether different issue….

26 responses to “fonts

  1. That’s my kind of geeky crowd. I bet they love the movie “Helvetica,” too.

    • I loved that film. Makes you wonder just how splendid that font really is. (Not to mention how widespread it is.)
      I am now eagerly awaiting the release of ‘Palatino’, ‘Garamond’, and ‘Frutiger’ πŸ™‚
      Although I’m not too bothered about the straight to video releases of ‘Comic Sans’, ‘Cooper’ and ‘Wingdings’

  2. And the high school classes can be blamed for the line spaces between paragraphs. That’s the one I seriously don’t get. πŸ˜›
    And “they” say nothing we learn in school sticks. lol

    • That’s weird… all the schools I went to told us specifically not to put line spaces between paragraphs. We’d get points taken off if we did. (They were public schools, in case it matters.)

    • Only the stuff we’re not trying to impart actually sticks, I think. I’d be happy if my (high school) students would slow down and write legibly. I haven’t yet gotten a paper in Thriller. The temptation to laugh at the student submitting it would be difficult to resist, though.
      I am trying to get them to use APA citations, but that’s largely because I want them to learn to be consistent about citing their sources. (And I can’t stand the angle brackets around URLs that MLA uses.)

  3. You know, every publication I’ve ever been involved with selected a style guide as “base,” but had its own (internal) style guide that was filled with the things that aren’t in that style guide but which come up routinely. For example, here at my current job we’ve got a style guide that includes the preferred spellings of astronomical terms, and amends the rules on comma usage. I can’t imagine any publication that has put out more than a few issues believing any style guide to be “correct.” They’re a starting point, not a judicial code.
    That said, every publication I’ve been involved with has been very particular about people not following instructions. So if the submission guidelines say to use a fixed-width font (and many do), then you absolutely must do so if you don’t want your submission to start out with a serious strike against it before it’s even been read.

    • Aha, another source of the fear! I guess it just goes to show the differences in markets; the sorts of places I have submitted to or read slushpile for were usually quite happy to have clean type on clean paper and content which vaguely matched the magazine’s aims, rather than scribbly handwritten or excessively white-outed screeds on topics which were nowhere near the publication’s target areas.
      Clearly I have mostly worked in the ghettos of publishing. This would also explain the lack of pay.

      • The requirement for fixed-width fonts is much more prevalent for scripts. We base estimates of running time on page lengths, so the standardization is important.

  4. The things I missed out on by not finishing college! I’d wondered about this one too; “a readable, standard font” doesn’t seem to satisfy some people.
    I have a few old, old books which suggest that Courier is necessary (these books usually just post-date typewriters, and warn people a great deal about the evil of dot-matrix printouts), but I have decided that monospacing is so Seventies. If my agent or editor really needs it in another font, I can easily change the digital copy, and so can they.

  5. As an editor, I hate Courier with the rage of thousand suns.

    • As a writer, Courier is my only true love when it comes to fonts. πŸ™‚ I’m not really sure, but I absolutely love that font. More so when its cracked up to 400% (what I write at, but not what I print at; I print at 12 point). I think its the monospace and typewriter-style serifs. And for me, it reads easy on the eyes.
      Now, for probably the same reason, I can’t stand Times New Roman. There is something about that font that I find bland and hard to read. Of course, I find most proportional fonts to be somewhat difficult to read quickly.

    • You know, I hate Courier as well. For purely aesthetic reasons…that I can’t pin down, I just hate that font.

      • HP had a version of Courier available for download a few years back that was cool — simply named as Dark Courier. Was that because it is evil? Na — just a darker strike in appearance. Much easier to see and on the printout.
        Still have that one for the times I see that Courier is a font preferance on subs.

  6. [drags Thriller.ttf to Trash]
    Style guides aside, I guess the whole thing about wanting submissions in a particular font, particular size, with particular margins and line-spacing — I guess it all had (has) to do with being able consistently to compare the length of one MS to another’s, no? (And presumably to the author’s claims of wordcount, as well.) With e-subs (and excerpts, synopses, whatever), you’d think the really rigid requirements would have gone the way of movable type: left for only curmudgeonly hardliners.
    So good to see a voice of reason!

  7. *raises hand*
    I’m one of those geeky MA college English composition teachers, and I can say right now that yes, I do demand a specific font: Times New Roman. Why? Because that’s an easy to read font for me. My comfort level, tyvm, because I’ve got twenty 8-10 page research papers to read, and I don’t want a font induced migraine by the end of the first one. I’ll have a MLA-induced one somewhere in the middle, but it can wait until then.
    As for the who uses what kind of citatation, it’s all in what the field of study needs to know.
    –MLA is English because in English, information isn’t time sensitive, but all those English geeks want to look things up.
    –APA is the social sciences because it matters not only who said it, but when. If they want to look it up, they can look at the bibliography.
    –Chicago is traditionally history, mostly because history geeks out over end notes and foot notes.
    –There’s also several specifically for the sciences, but they have about the same reasoning as the APA.
    –However, each journal may or may not have their own style that the writer has to conform to, and their own conventions.
    –I had one biography writing teacher who flat out told us to pick a method and stick with it. Didn’t have to be MLA, didn’t have to be anything that is in a book. Just pick an order and be consistant.
    As I tell my students, if you want to know what style to use, ASK whoever is in charge. They’ll tell you what they want. Just do whatever they tell you, and all will be vastly better.
    Sorry for the rant. This is a warm-up to Wednesday’s lecture, can you tell? LOL

    • I never really know why MLA and APA had different set-ups, but this makes sense. I completely had to re-learn how to cite things when I went from high school/undergad (where MLA was used) to grad school for social work (where I had to learn APA).

  8. I’m funny, I find Courier extremely easy to write in; and hate using sans-serif fonts with a passion. For submissions I’d generally go either Courier or TNR in 12pt.
    But that’s just me.

  9. I’m with gerri up there… I’m an English prof, and I ask for “times new roman or similar” because it is easy to read for me. Now MS Word starts in Ariel, I think, so I get a lot in that, too, which is fine.
    Sorry for the geek moment here, but MLA decided only one space between sentences rather than two, which makes me wince. What makes me crazy is that they now say you don’t need a comma before a coordinating conjunction if the sentences are short and it is obvious. *rolls eyes* This should fall in the “stylistic abandonment of rules” category, but I certainly can’t teach freshmen comp student that level of subtlety.
    Personally, I know MLA best, and hate it, but I don’t know that any one is better or makes more sense (Chicago is the only other one I’ve used, and I don’t remember much about it.)
    As far as manuscripts for editors, format for queries, etc… I just do whatever the submission guidelines say to do. πŸ™‚

  10. Don’t forget to mention color. πŸ™‚ I remember some of your prior posts about LARGE FONTS IN STRANGE COLORS. πŸ™‚

  11. I’ve tended to gravitate towards Courier though I don’t particularly like it. I do find it easier to edit. I started using Arial for some work as well as according to several people I know with dyslexia it’s one of the most friendly fonts for them to read.
    I’d love to hear opinions on point sizes. I see papers that are done in 14pt so that they can meet a two page requirement, and in the same class someone who put theirs in 8pt so they could fit more information in the two page limit.

    • Always 12 point. I make it an issue by telling them that I need to grade them fairly within their peer group, and they’re doing themselves a disservice by straying from my guidelines of 12 pt. Times New Roman, single spaced header, double spaced text, no spaces between paragraph, 1 inch margins all around. That way, I appeal to their inner greed. They know that if they mess with my rules, they’ll get a worse grade, and they don’t want that. *grin* Why, yes, I am a Machievellian.
      Ok, ok, it also plays to whatever sense they have of fairness, but to be honest, greed is much more reliable to work on. *wicked grin*

  12. How about “firecats”, can people use firecats?

  13. I am a font geek. Unfortunately, in my day job, I am also a lawyer. But there is a place for people like me, and I think it is very interesting in a font-geeky sort of way for those who were smart enough to never go to law school: Here is a great discussion of the over-use of Times New Roman font andl inks to some other font-geek discussions, as well:

  14. When I was in grad school, we generally had a list of 2-3 approved fonts and sizes. 12 pt Times New Roman, 10 point Courier New, 10 point Arial. Because I guess between size and spacing of those fonts, they end up with roughly equivalent word counts per page.
    And in totally weird, the newest version of Microsoft Word defaults to Calibri 11 pt.

  15. 14 point Palatino or Garamond πŸ™‚
    I find a serif typeface much more easier to read than a sans-serif. Does anyone know why? As regards to colour (especially on a screen) – I find straight forward black on white much preferable to white on black.
    And who the hell puts TWO spaces after a full stop anymore? Grr. Whenever I sub any text for the magazine I work on, it just gets me so f*&^$ng annoyed!

  16. Font
    If I had to pick a font to rule all fonts, it would be Garamond. Maybe just because I think it’s pretty.
    Unfortunately I have been convinced that TNR 12 is the only true font to use when dealing with others.

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