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“As the saying goes, type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters.” – Mathew Carter. I happen to agree with Carter because we do not select a font for every letter, we select a font for all letters. Selecting font is the most important part of formatting and designing your technical document. In my opinion, fonts show your understanding and sense of the document you are putting forward to the readers. For technical documents, the fonts should show your sober, fit, neat personality. Fonts like Bradley, Ravie, Harrington, etc show your fun side, which is not suitable for technical documents.
The most suitable fonts for technical documents are SANS SERIF and SERIF groups. SANS SERIF fonts include the Arial, Helvetica, Tahoma, and Verdana. And the SERIF fonts include Times Roman, Times New Roman, Georgia, and Bookman.
Technical definition of the SERIF term is, “a typeface having small strokes at the end of the main strokes of each character”. In easy language, the SERIF fonts have feet at the end of each letter. According to few researches, it makes it much easier to read the content.
As in SANS SERIF, SANS means NO or NON in French. Because the feet are recognition of the SERIF font, therefore, SANS SERIF means font with no feet. It is technically defined as, “typeface having no serifs (small strokes at the end of the main strokes of each character).”
Why Use SERIFS and SANS SERIFS:
The most important benefit of using these fonts is that they are readable. SERIFS are believed to enhance the experience of reading and legibility of the readers (Arditi, Cho 2005). The readers can distinguish the ends of the letters of this group because of their feet. The industry uses SERIFS for user manuals, and online helps because even in small size, they are readable. Although, few years back it was considered that NON SERIFS should be used for online content and publishing but now it is agreed that both are perfect for reading online and printed. Bernard (2003), in his research compared SERIFS and SANS SERIFS with Times New Roman and Arial. The results varied in the size of the fonts, but both were readable.
It is also a regular practice of writers that format and design their documents, which we keep the Arial font 12 and Times New Roman 10 and both are readable. Technical documents have codes, definitions, descriptions, diagrams, etc so writing the text in SERIFS and SANS SERIFS increases the speed of reading and following the text better. According to www.unc.edu, in a recent study Arditi and Cho evaluated the use of SERIFS and SANS SERIFS with respect to speed, letter recognition, and continuous reading. And both had negligible difference of these aspects.
A big percentage of users use Microsoft Windows as their operating system. The fonts available with Microsoft Office are the ones that automatically install with the OS. Therefore, while writing in Microsoft Office documents or even using the Adobe printer for PDF conversion; use the SERIFS and SANS SERIFS. When we write technical documents, it is very likely to get converted in PDF or published as web page/document.
Recommended Styles for SERIFS and SANS SERIFS
- Use SANS SERIFS for Headings and Chapters
- Use SERIFS for content, caption, and text
- Select fonts with space between the letters
- Chicago Manual Style
- MLA Style
- APA Style
- They work best in Italics because they keep their prominent features and still readable. We need to Italicize some terms in technical documents, such as Functions, Features, Tabs, or Web pages
- Use 2-3 type fonts in one document i.e. my favorite is Times New Roman, Arial, and Verdana