Do you have a favorite font? Are you dedicated to Times New Roman, or are you more of an “anything-but-Wingdings” kind of writer? Maybe you haven’t given your choice of font much thought.
I used to fall into the latter category, until at university I heard about a guy who claimed that when he wrote his essays in the Georgia font, he got better grades than when he used other fonts. Now, I received this anecdote with a healthy dose of skepticism, but when you’re drowning in essay deadlines, anything is worth a try.
I did get some solid marks with Georgia, but there were too many factors at play for me to be able to attribute my success to the font. How much difference can a font really make?
As it turns out, more than you might think, and it’s not just about getting better grades.
The fonts that we use today in both print and on the web were specifically developed to be easy to read. And for good reason—why would you want to scare readers off or distract them from the words’ meaning with an obscure font? Even though one study shows that harder-to-read fonts can lead to better recollection of the text, there is no recollecting if readers don’t get through it in the first place.
You certainly should pay attention to how your choice of font affects your audience’s reading experience. However, you should also care about the effect that font has on your writing experience.
Fonts can make a difference to what you’re writing, and also how you feel while writing it. Some of the main elements of font that make them different to work with are:
How Readable Is It?
Fonts that are easy to read are easy to write with. After all, reading is a big part of writing.
I know that for myself, unless I have had such a crazy burst of inspiration that my fingers are flying to get words down ASAP, I tend to read my writing as I go along. Also, I always reread at the end of my writing session, and certainly once I’ve completed the whole draft.
I look for mistakes, awkward phrasing, repeated words, anything that I don’t want in there. I also check to make sure that I feel good about it.
For these rereads, select a font that is easy to read so that you’re able to focus on the meaning of the words rather than deciphering them. Also, easily-read fonts help you get an accurate feeling of how well your writing flows. We’ve all read something that seems choppy—don’t try to recreate that with your font.
Here’s what makes a font readable, and what you should pay attention to when choosing your font.
Serif Versus Sans-serif
Fonts with those little decorative strokes that give the characters a fancy look, known as serifs, are generally thought of as easier to read in print rather than on a digital device. While there are many digital sources that use serif fonts successfully and vice versa, in general this holds true.
This is because the lower resolution and often smaller area of digital reading devices, as compared to print, are better suited to the cleaner, simpler sans-serif fonts (like the one you’re reading in right now!).
Character and Line Spacing
This one is obvious. If your lines and characters are too close together, you’ll have to work harder to read them.
It also makes for a denser, messier-looking page, which can lead to frustration while writing and rereading content. Think about the feeling of having a clear, organized workspace—that’s what space does to your text when you’re writing it.
A crucial factor in readability is making sure that the letters are distinguishable from one another. You don’t want to have to waste time figuring out if you’re looking at an “a” or an “e.”
Type designer Jessica Hische recommends that you make sure your font passes the “Il1” test, meaning that these three similar characters are easily distinguishable.
How Long Are Your Lines?
While this may seem like one of the less important font characteristics, a few studies demonstrate that line length has an effect on the reading and writing experience.
A study by the Baymard Institute shows that a font that typically includes more than 75 characters per line tends to make it harder to focus on the words in the sentence. However, for online reading, the optimal length could be as long as 100 characters per line.
This is because readers have good focus at the beginning of each line, but it dwindles as the line goes on. Moving to a new line gives both readers and writers a little jump in energy, so making the lines too long would reduce these energy boosts, and can also make the writer feel like they aren’t making much progress.
However, you also need to be careful not to make the lines too short, as the more frequent eye travel can break rhythm. It also can make for a more stressful rereading experience, even leading you to skip to the next line before finishing the current one. When you’re self-editing after your writing session, skipping part of the line can cause you to miss things that you might want to change.
How Does It Make You Feel?
People associate different fonts with different feelings, whether they realize it or not. You can make content feel formal, casual, funny, whimsical, or any other mood just by changing the font.
Culture also has an impact on how a font can feel. For example, many Americans associate Helvetica with Bank of America, whether they realize it consciously or not, and Comic Sans has been turned into such a joke that I’m pretty sure I am no longer capable of taking something written in it seriously.
Therefore, you may want to avoid writing in fonts that have a mood other than the one that you want to project in your writing. Even if the published work will have a different font, it’s still important for you to be in the right state of mind while writing.
For example, Times New Roman is one of the more formal fonts, so I might have an easier time getting into the playful, curious, or adventurous mood I would want to be in to write a children’s book if I chose a different font, like Merriweather. Likewise, if I’m writing a formal letter or some serious copy, I wouldn’t choose a font that reminds me of a typewriter, which would probably make me feel more like writing a short, bittersweet poem.
This is largely subjective, so find what works for you!
Find Your Font
Quite simply, as research shows, texts that look good make you feel good while interacting with them. This is why it’s so important to choose a font that not only is easy to read, optimizes line length, and has the right mood, but also is one that you like!
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence from writers suggesting that a certain font makes them more productive or creative. For example, tumblr user @phaltu discovered that using *shudder* Comic Sans improves her writing speed and creativity.
Try playing around with fonts—you may find that picking a font based on the facts I’ve presented is the way to go for you, or you could surprise yourself and click with a wacky font. I also may have just presented you with a great new way to procrastinate before starting the actual writing (sorry).
So, tell me, what’s your font?