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The Secret Lives of Fonts

Posted by Phil Renaud on March 12th, 2006.

Phil Renaud is a Canadian blog design and web design enthusiast, with a particular admiration for web standards and CSS innovation. Ruby on Rails, xhtml/css, ajax, and a whole lotta love.

http://philrenaud.com

Phil Renaud has posted 21 articles.

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I’m nearing the end of my sixth semester of university, and things are going pretty well: I’m clearing a decent grade point average, enjoying my major, and just having wrapped up my semester’s “essay alley”, wherein all my courses require a term paper or two, and getting my results back telling me that I’m doing much better than usual.

At first, I’m just relieved to be doing so well. Still, ever the skeptic, I start to wonder: what exactly am I doing differently now to be getting all these A-range paper grades all of the sudden?

I haven’t drastically changed the amount of effort I’m putting into my writing. I’m probably even spending less time with them now than I did earlier in my studies, and while I guess you could argue that I’m probably just being a great example of practice making perfect, I’ve got my doubts; I even used to take courses concentrating on writing better essays, and in the time surrounding that, my grades were pretty low.

Then it hits me: the only thing I’ve really changed since I’ve been getting these grades is…

my essay font.

Long story short, this throws me into something of a panic: I keep all my essays’ final copies in storage, so I go through every scholarly paper I’ve written for the past few years in hopes of garnering some sort of makeshift empirical results with regards to my essay styles. Here’s what I’m working with:

Total Number of Essays Written: 52.

Fonts Used: Georgia, Trebuchet MS, Times New Roman.

Let me explain what I found; I think the results might be a little bit surprising.

Times New Roman

Times New Roman

Total Times New Roman styled essays: 11

Average Grade: A-

Everybody starts out using Times New Roman, I think. It’s the default in most text editors, and the natural tendency of first-year college students being lazy, it’s unlikely too many of them bothered messing around with the fonts until at least later in their studies. I was in the same boat. Anyway, the A- average is pretty close to where my GPA stands, and assuming that the professor marking the papers generally sees a few hundred in Times font every semester, I imagine he/she really just marked the paper on the basis of its integrity.

However, I don’t think I can say the same about the next two fonts…

Trebuchet MS

Trebuchet MS

Total Trebuchet MS styled essays: 18

Average Grade: B-

Ouch! Nobody likes to see a B- on papers that they put serious effort into. Unfortunately, these guys made up more than a third of my total essay output.

So what gives? Was I just neglecting my papers around this time? Personal crises bogging me down? Partying a little too hard?

Actually, none of the above. I wrote most of these in second-third year, where I had a good bit more free time to study than usual, and as it turns out, I got some of my best overall marks. I checked my exam/non-essay grades from around that time, and they were through the roof! “A”-range grades on pretty much everything that didn’t give me the option of styling my font.

Well, before I start chanting “Academic Objectivity is a myth”, there’s still one more font to investigate

Georgia

Georgia

Total Georgia styled essays: 23

Average Grade: A

Well, would you believe it? My essays written in Georgia did the best overall. This got me thinking as to why that might be: maybe fonts speak a lot louder than we think they do. Especially to a professor who has to wade through a collection of them; Times seems to be the norm, so it really doesn’t set off any subconcious triggers. Georgia is enough like Times to retain its academic feel, and is different enough to be something of a relief for the grader. Trebuchet seems to set off a negative trigger, maybe just based on the fact that it’s not as easy to read in print, maybe on the fact that it looks like something off a blog rather than an academic journal. Who knows.

So, what are you trying to say?

I want to say that serifs appeal to academics more than sans-serifs do. I even briefly hypothesized that potential students would be innately drawn towards a the site of a college with a serif font more than one with a sans-serif.

I didn’t go into this hoping to try and make any claims against academic integrity here; I can’t imagine this is something that a professor would do knowingly.

What I’m not opposed to saying, however, is that the style used in an essay certainly seems to influence grading tendencies, even if that is at an unconcious level. I think that it’s possible that a person sees a Serif font and thinks “proper, academic”, and sees a Sans font and thinks “focus is on the style, not the substance; must lack integrity”. Maybe.

But, it’s hard to deny this, evidenced over 52 papers. Within each of the three fonts I used, there wasn’t terribly much variance, either. It’s not like these were just written for one subject, either: a wide range of disciplines were included, from Philosophy to Economics to Marketting to Political Science to Computer Science, even having paper on Computational Neuromodelling thrown in there.

So, be mindful of your target audience when you’re marking up a document, whether it’s a university essay or a commercial website. You never know just how loudly a font speaks.

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That makes sense to me. I generally find Sans to be more appealing because Serif reminds me of a newspaper. But then I don’t like reading things on screen too much, and I never realy thought about printed media fonts, as far as preference for serif or sans-serif.

Edgeman
March 12th, 2006
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This theory is valid. As a design student one of the first things we were taught in Typography was the many ways different typefaces, kerning, point size, leading, tracking, etc., affects a reader’s experience of a piece. Good eye on spotting the trend!

Altirus
March 12th, 2006
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[…] College design student, Phil Renaud, has an interesting theory about the impact of typography on term-paper grades. This is insightful and fun reading! […]

[…] I’ve decided to use Georgia in every paper from now on. Hey, it’s worth a try! […]

XIKITA /blog » Random list
March 12th, 2006
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It looks like I’m going the right thing. I use Georgia for everything I write. Nice observation!

Nao Nozawa
March 12th, 2006
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A friend in college had the exact same experience. He went from getting B’s in his Philosophy and English Lit courses to getting A’s, right at the same time he switched from Times New to Garamond.

Andrew W
March 12th, 2006
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I would rather say you used Georgia first and then started writing better because the font makes you better inspired.

Perhaps you are a Romanticist-Modernist

Johan
March 12th, 2006
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Typographers world-wide are all proclaiming, “I told you so” after reading this.

While I think this needs a ton more examples to be taken seriously on an academic level (irony intended), I think it brings up a very interesting idea. Does letter recognition and overall readability actually affect the way ideas are taken in? Absolutely intriguing - great article.

P.J. Onori
March 13th, 2006
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I prefer to use Perpetua for all my papers. I originally discovered it while reading Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet In Heaven. It does work wonders and looks vastly more academic than Times New Roman.

Rob Crowther
March 13th, 2006
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It might turn out that your professors specified that they wanted the font to be Times (mine usually dictate that a font be 12-points, Times, with so-and-so margins), and this is why your sans-serif essays scored lower. Georgia looks enough like Times to the untrained eye, so they may not have docked you for it. Just a theory. I know I’ll format my next paper in Georgia for kicks, though.

dave
March 13th, 2006
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Johan makes a good point- What font did you type these essays in? Did you type them all in Times and then change them to Trebuchet or Georgia? Or did you start off using the different font? Maybe it affected the flow of your writing, seeing what you typed rendered in a different typeface.

I know that I write a lot differently depending on the writing tool (pen, pencil, keyboard) - things tend to come out more stream-of-consciousness on pen and paper for me.

Either way, great post and I would keep using Georgia ;)

Jack Cheng
March 13th, 2006
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[…] read more | digg story […]

This is an interesting anecdotal observation. Some empirical research may reveal the reasons for the effect. The cause may be nothing more than simple reader’s fatigue with the advantage being lost once everyone starts writing in Georgia.

Learjet
March 13th, 2006
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[…] Interesting commentary on the effect of using serif vs. sans-serif fonts in term papers. […]

at andersonfam.org
March 13th, 2006
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Interesting read..

Did you ask your professors about it? :P

Josh

Josh
March 13th, 2006
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I’m a college teacher and I actually require my students to write in a serif font. If you have upwards of a 100 pages reading to do Ariel and other sans fonts get really hard on the eyes. Just my two cents.

Jovive
March 13th, 2006
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I gotta tell you, Comic Sans is the font that’s going to get you the A Plus. There isn’t another font that just spills intelligence onto the floor like Comic Sans

mike
March 13th, 2006
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This is funny, because I just sent in a paper for AP Government - and after screwing about with the font, settled on Georgia. Outcome? Perfect score, with the paper not showing a crease in the upper-left corner.

Paul McCann
March 13th, 2006
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La vida secreta de las fuentes…

Un estudio hecho para mostrar que la fuente Serif afecta a sus lectores un lugares fundamentalmente diferentes de lo que afecta Sans-Serif. La moral de las historia: Conosca su audencia cuando escribes un documento, si para un sitio corporativo o un pa…

meneame.net
March 13th, 2006
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[…] Phil Renaud has proposed a intersting idea on the effects that fonts have on the reader. Really makes you think more about what your content will be (and who your audience is) when you choose a font, rather then just what looks good. Posted Sunday, March 12, 2006 Filed in Aside Tagged with Fonts, Serifs […]

I noticed the same thing you did a few years ago. I then started tinkering with different writing tools to find the best one for a good grade. I found that the Computer Modern font that is most commonly used in TeX and LaTeX gets me the best grades.

My current theory is that the TeX and LaTeX, and therefore the Computer Modern font, have been used in so many scholarly journals and published books (textbooks especially) that my professors subconsciously view my papers as highly polished and “publish worthy”.

Just last year I won a university-wide writing contest with a paper that I thought had “throw away quality” content but was typeset using LaTeX.

LPo
March 13th, 2006
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What I learned when I was studying web pages was that serif is better for the page, while sans is better for the screen. Nice to see it backed up anecdotally like this. It also sounds like people are getting a little tired of Times.

Having said that, I’m a bit surprised that the font isn’t specified for your essay formats. For my undergrad we had to have our margins set correctly to the millimeter and had our font type and sizes (to check word counts were accurate) spot-checked by the profs. To deviate noticeably from the format was to risk an automatic zero on the paper.

Kat
March 13th, 2006
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This is entertaining anecdote, but not convincing evidence. The designers who believe in font-determinism should conduct the obvious correlational study testing the relationship of font to grades over thousands of essays by hundreds of students. This study , like this article, provides no evidence against the hypothesis that students choose serif fonts for their best papers and sans serif for their worst. To test this, one must conduct an experiment in which papers are blindly assigned fonts.

Jared
March 13th, 2006
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I am also at college, and many of my fellow students screw around with fonts as a way to lengthen their papers (along with margin adjustments, line breaks, &c.). Arial takes up more space than Times New Roman, for instance, and that dastardly Courier New takes up the most space of all. Is it certain that no such nonsense was used to lengthen the papers, leading to a poorer paper and hence a lesser grade, and thus polluting the sample?

Rob-Bob
March 13th, 2006
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As an earlier poster said about using LaTex, I’ve had a lot of success with papers produces with LaTex. Many lacking a crease in the corner as well.

Grakker
March 13th, 2006
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Rob-Bob: Are you implying I lack academic integrity? How dare you!

Just joking :)

No, I’ve never used a font for anything but trying to appeal to readability; using it to try to manipulate length is the wrong way to go about it.

Phil Renaud
March 13th, 2006
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I’m a university professor. I automatically convert my students papers to the correct font, font size, margins, etc. I then check for length. This gives me an easy way to toss out an F or two and eliminate a few from the “to grade” pile.

Bob-Rob
March 13th, 2006
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Serif fonts for printed media is better than sans serifs mainly because it is easier to read. That is because the serifs create lines and makes it easier for the eyes to follow the the flow of the printed words on the paper. This is especially true when the type size in small. On the other hand, the use of sans serif fonts in titles, where the font size in usually larger then that of the rest of the text is usually more appealing.

neuralien
March 13th, 2006
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Nice. I’m wondering how Book Antiqua fares. It is the best academic serif font, IMHO.

. . . and your essays. The titles remind me of this:

(The Postmodern Essay Generator)

http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo

(Reload the linked page; each time it reloads, it generates a new essay.)

Berkana
March 13th, 2006
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I’ve got to say, I also noticed this trend with papers I submitted. Not only do I use Georgia, but I tell Word to do it at 90% so it looks ever-so-slightly taller, and it makes the width a bit closer to Times. I’ve always thought Times’ obliques (italics) were the most hideous on Earth. I also tend to use Frutiger instead of Arial, which seems to complement it nicely in headlines.

PommieZ
March 13th, 2006
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Basically what has been discovered here has been known by professional typesetters for years. A reader’s comprehension levels fall off dramatically when a sans serif font is used.

I did a three technical writing course and during that they harped on the use of serif fonts for all printed body text and produced facts and figures from numerous studies to re-enforce the point. From memory, the re-read factor (the need for the reader to re-read part of all of the sentence) when a sans-serif font is used is up around 2.2, which then impacts upon the readers comprehension of what has been read.

AgentCooper
March 13th, 2006
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[…] A friend of mine told me a while ago that he doesn’t particularly like Arial as a typeface. I’ve been pondering that ever since, because it’s my default font for this site. I just read an article that correlates font or typeface choice with better academic grades. Whether that’s right or not, I expect that I’ll get different reactions based on the look of the text on this page. So I have changed font for this blog to Trebuchet MS which is available on Windows and Mac. Second choice Verdana, then your default font for the sans-serif family. […]

this artcile is interesting. The last time i used Times was in my 10th grade. And such serif fonts usually are appealing.

S
March 13th, 2006
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Interesting. In Ireland you’re given a stylebook with do’s and don’ts, including which fonts to use and line height.
What struck me about your article wasn’t the bit about fonts… it was the fact that a B- is bad grade in the U.S. — is that true? In Europe you’ll hardly ever get near a B unless you’re a genius — and don’t even think about getting an A.

Date Heure
March 13th, 2006
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[…] Does it really make such a difference what fonts you use? According to this article over at fadtastic it does. Tags […]

Interesting story. I wonder whether it’s just a question of how easy to read a paper is. It makes sense that the easier it is to read a paper, the happier a tutor will be with it. Papers that are more pleasurable to read will be given higher marks. The assumption will be that they’re better written than other papers, but perhaps it’s just the fonts working at a subconscious level.

Sean McManus
March 13th, 2006
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Georgia seems to be very nice font.. to bad I actually started using it regulary just a year ago…

Ivan Minic
March 13th, 2006
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Garamond is really the way to go, in my opinion.
Just out of curiosity, what is your average word length per line? Were they different based on your different fonts? The impact line length has on readability may have affected things too.

Jason Crow-tu-zuh
March 13th, 2006
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The Secret Lives of Fonts…

A study done to show that Serif fonts affect readers in fundamentally different ways than Sans-Serifs do. The moral of the story: know your audience when you mark up your document, whether it’s a corporate website or a scholarly essay….

Anonymous
March 13th, 2006
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[…] read more | digg story […]

I find that by writing in the font of the final doc and marking up as I go along, rather than writing in plain text and marking up later, makes my language seem more formal and eloquent. It seems to me that the font affects not only the reader, but the author too!

My personal favourite is Palatino; an old IT course fortunately warned me off sans-serif faces before University.

Dec
March 13th, 2006
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[…] You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Add this post to online bookmark systems . Leave aReply […]

I use Underware Dolly for all my papers now.

Ronny
March 13th, 2006
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As a TA, its true that font changes are really noticable when marking a stack of essays. For sure serif fonts are better to read, but for me the worst font is the one that is monospaced and is clearly only there to take up more space and fill the required page length.

Michelle
March 13th, 2006
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I agree with Dec. Palatino Linotype is just fantastic, so much pleasure to the eyes both on-screen and on-print!

eykO
March 13th, 2006
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This is a really interesting idea, unfortunately I can’t bring myself to consider it seriously because it’s written using a sans font.

Remco
March 13th, 2006
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Sans serif fonts are easier to read on screen and serif fonts are easier to read on paper.

We’re forced to write our reports in latex. I would complain earlier, but when I compare my reports to ms-word reports, you can tell the difference

pravin
March 13th, 2006
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Palatino was my font for all my college and grad school papers, and served me well. I’m pretty sure it makes a difference…

Jonathan
March 13th, 2006
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I learnt this myself over my university education, as do most students who care about their writing and work. It’s the kind of thing few people shout about, I’ll leave you to sort out the reasoning for that. That said, I did try to get a few of my friends into preparing their essays better, but most didn’t see the need, and got graded accordingly. However, we WERE told early on that Sans Serif fonts have no place in academic work, and if there ever was a golden rule, that’d be it. If you have many pages of copy, serifs are the only way to go.

I remember blogging about this too, a couple of years back. Link

Adobe Jenson Pro is no longer my favorite font though. Georgia is very nice, but designed to look good on computer screens at a low size and dpi. If you have no other fonts on your computer apart from the ones it came with, use Garamond. It’s probably one of the best.

brandon
March 13th, 2006
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[…] fadtastic - a multi-author web design trends journal » Blog Archive » The Secret Lives of Fonts   [link] […]

Damn, I print all mine in default notepad. No wonder I get such bad grades!

henry
March 13th, 2006
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[…] Phil Renaud talks about typography and how they relate to his grades. Although his example may seem a little suspect - I think his conclusions are absoultely true. Most people aren’t aware just how much their font and writing styles affect how their document looks. […]

I heard years ago that sans serif fonts are for quick reads, and serif are a little more “difficult” to read, so the person reading it takes more time reading each word and this make him/her assimilate more what is being readed. Cool article! I’ll write all my essays in Georgia from now on!

Daniel
March 13th, 2006
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[…] Want to get a better grade on your papers? Use the Georgia font, says Phil Renaud of Fadtastic. Tags […]

[…] The secret lives of fonts […]

Resiny.org Links :
March 13th, 2006
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Nice article. When I had to write a lot of large reports back in the 1990s I found that Garamond seemed to gather the most compliments from readers, most of whom were attorneys and other highly-educated people.

Stingray
March 13th, 2006
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This article fails to mention the author’s impression of his own work - whether each paper deserved an A in his mind (or his impression of the grader’s mind).

To wildly assume that each of these papers would have scored perfectly were font not an issue is a gross mistake; nobody writes perfectly all the time.

A good grade depends on both the student’s interest and ability to write what the grader wants to see.

That said, I’ve heard from “experts” that the brightest paper is the easiest to read. Additionally, anything that sticks out can be positive; if most of the class submits MS Times New Roman but you use Nimbus Serif, you will stand out. Sometimes, this is bad (hello, Monospace fonts!)

Adam Katz
March 13th, 2006
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Adam: the only time I considered my own thoughts on the quality of my marks was when I talked about Trebuchet MS; it was earlier, when I used it, and my stuff in general was of higher quality; it seemed inversely proportional to the grades I was getting.

That said, all I’m trying to prove here is that there is _probably_ some way that the typeface subconsciously affects the reader. Not that all my essays were of extraordinary quality.

Phil Renaud
March 13th, 2006
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I also noticed that he mentioned his papers ranged “from Philosophy to Economics to Marketting to Political Science to Computer Science, even having paper on Computational Neuromodelling thrown in there [sic].” Ignoring the fact that this sentence is both misspelled and grammatically incorrect, it does not include any sciences that use the scientific method. :-p

“Empirical” experiments are purely based on tests and are not conclusive. However, there are no control elements here, and there are FAR too many variables to come to this conclusion; what did the other students use? How did they perform? What reasons were given for the lower grades?

Adam Kat
March 13th, 2006
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[…] Student Phil Renaud has a hunch that it does, and supports his hunch with empirical research — he has examined his own essay archive. […]

that’s so true.

i used Georgia font for the last several years of school, primarily because I enjoy how it looked.

Grades went up across the board. From that point on, I recommended everyone use Georgia font - the added bonus of awesome looking numbers gives data more “validity” somehow ;D

matt
March 13th, 2006
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A very interesting thesis… Although your sampling was rather small, it does prove a point, “looks matter!”. Another source of good “font” intelligence are those used in ads, book covers, etc. Use proper use of colour is as important too!

Joe
March 13th, 2006
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Sans-serif fonts are generally held to be more informal. They are great for on-screen reads, as they are less complex. However, for any scholarly or acedemic paper, they are suicide; they are simply not formal enough to be taken seriously. I would fail a paper submitted in a sans typeface. It’s no surprise you scored high marks with Georgia (even if it is a screen font) - as it is a Matthew Carter piece… he is the world’s finest modern typographer. I would suggest using Galliard - it is another Carter font, and is the gold standard for acedemic journals and the like. Check it out.

aaaaaron
March 13th, 2006
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I know, I spelled academic incorrectly… how embarrassing!

aaaaaron
March 13th, 2006
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[…] Fonts speak louder than previously thought - This is really interesting. The poster claims that by changing the font face of his essays and papers, he received a higher (or not) grade on them. Times New Roman yielded an A-, Trebuchet MS yielded a B and Georgia yielded a good A. So, what are you trying to say? […]

[…] The Secret Lives of Fonts Want an A+ use Georgia (tags: type design georgia) […]

My buddy used to copy all of his engineering assignments from other students. He tweaked things just enough not to get caught. The biggest difference was that he had nicer handwriting. The result was that he always got the better grade.

Wes P
March 14th, 2006
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This is absolutely true. I once wrote an ingenious essay and got an F. I will never use Wingdings again.

Pogorzelski
March 14th, 2006
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[…] fadtastic - a multi-author web design trends journal » Blog Archive » The Secret Lives of Fonts Then it hits me: the only thing I’ve really changed since I’ve been getting these grades is… my essay font. (tags: design font fonts Typography webdev) March 13th, 2006 @ 07:23 PM • Filed under Personal […]

i like angry blue thats a good font!

Daniel
March 14th, 2006
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[…] The secret lives of fonts. Are you using the right fonts? […]

[…] =================== COOL, will use this in my resumeread more | digg story […]

@Pogorzelski:

You deserve something for the best comment of this post !

tim
March 14th, 2006
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WINGDINGS

WORKS EVERYTIME

MR
March 14th, 2006
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[…] fadtastic - a multi-author web design trends journal » Blog Archive » The Secret Lives of Fonts (via lifehack.org) […]

[…] The Secret Lives of Fonts « Design Issues | […]

Interesting study. An important piece is missing from the variables, though. Times is a time-tested typeface with a lot of history to back it up, Georgia is a thoughtful book face by the greatest living type designer, Matthew Carter, and Trebuchet is an amateur design meant for short texts on screen. To give the sansies a fair shot you might have used Helvetica or Lucida.

Stephen Coles
March 16th, 2006
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[…] Article: The Secret Lives of Fonts […]

Funny. I do agree that typeface choice does affect the reader’s consumption and interpretation of the text, it makes sense that the ‘easier’ it is to read a text the more positive an experience it will be to engage with it, both consciously and subconsciously. After all, type is supposed to be the median to an intended message and the more efficiently and successfully it can do this the better (that’s what graphic design is all about). Still, the median itself is designed and carries its own additional message. But the funny thing for me is the whole stereotyping of serif vs. sans serif. Just like there are more successful serif typefaces, so are there more successful sans designs. He chose Trebuchet which is, in my opinion, a horrible example of sans serif type. I mean, come on, it was commissioned by Microsoft, need I say more? I will: it’s unrefined, too playful and time-specific…and u-g-l-y! There is no elegance in it and I agree with the professors that see it as ‘lacking in integrity’ because it is! Damn Microsoft and their making users dumb. Stupid. The ironic (or maybe not) thing is that Georgia, another of the typefaces mentioned in the article, was also designed for MS. At least they hired Mathew Carter to design it, he’s good at his job. Still, there are far better serif faces out there, other than the infamous Times New Roman and Georgia. Galliard is a damn good one, and Minion is still the designer’s preferred serif for book designs. Sabon is also very good as is the classic Garamond. Use any of these and you’ll be sure to impress.

All this to say that it is a wrong assumption that sans typefaces in general can’t give good results. To use Trebuchet as an example is an injustice to the whole typographical world and makes me downright sick! I have always trusted in Helvetica Neue (light 45 for body and bold 75 for titles, etc.) and it has never failed me. The funny thing is that through my stay in university I used it on all my papers and always got high marks and always good extra comments about how beautifully laid out they were and how they were a joy to read………oh, and always a question about what font I used and how could they get it. And this was at a deisgn/art academic institution, famous for its theoretical insights into both art and design. So there you go, if you ask me, I worry not. Damn good choice. Though it’s not only about the typeface you choose, it’s how you use it and lay it out.

Beyond the ubiquitous Helvetica, there are other very good sans faces. Univers is a classic, designed by Adrian Frutiger—a god in the world of typeface design. He also designed………yup, you guessed it, Frutiger, which is used by Apple and is also a good sans. Akzidenz Grotesk is another classic and is great, very sexy. And there are plenty more good sans faces that are legible (though serif is the more legible style) and beautiful and refined and full of integrity. There are also hybrid faces like Meta (by Eric Spiekerman—boy did this typeface go superstar quickly, it was everywhere!) that use both sans & serif details, which are more legible, but in my opinion are less refined and date relatively quickly. Helvetica will never grow old and tired, it is forever fresh and beautiful, so pure and balanced.

Bradley Wajcman
March 16th, 2006
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[…] Another monday finished. I’m nearly through them all, thank goodness! My classes were okay today, nothing too interesting to report except I redid an assignment last week and I got back my mark today. For some strange reason the marking was completely different. In the first assignment I got 10/10 on a portion of the assignment (I got not so great marks on the other four parts thus the redoing!). When I got my assignment back, the part that I initially got 10/10 on … the EXACT same part! I only got 7/9! I lost three marks on the EXACT same thing. Talk about subjective marking! I’m not sure if I should say something since I got the opportunity to redo it, which is a very good thing (74% is much better than 15%) but I don’t know why I lost 3 marks on something that didn’t change. Hummm?! Maybe it was the font! I’m starting to get excited about the end of the week. I have signed up for my first conference! It’s a new teachers conference in Richmond, and I’m missing Friday to attend. I figure that I’d learn more at this event than the two classes I’ll be missing. I’m sure it will be just as boring as the classes I’m taking, I can’t imagine that a conference is going to much different since it’s essentially the same people who lecture at both; other teachers. I just hope that I’ll bring home some good resources and maybe find some inspiration for my practicum and my future teaching location. […]

[…] Source March 21st 2006 Posted to QuickLinks, design and typography […]

WebJuice » Study on fonts
March 21st, 2006
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It’s true, fonts have changed, but then again, believe it or not, when viewing on the net, it’s far easier to read a font that is Sans-Serif than one that is just Sans. It is spaced further apart, easier to read, and read fast. Sans-Serifs remind me of text books; they seem out of date with the times. (Pardon the pun!)

M
March 21st, 2006
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[…] read more | digg story […]

[…] An interesting article on font selection… The Secret Lives of Fonts […]

[…] Now, someone has actually taken the time to analyse all his corrected assignments to test out the theory that fonts do affect grading, and it turns out that Georgia is the best font to use in academia settings. Maybe it gets professors in the universities all homey thinking about their own undergraduate days. […]

well written! good read. keep it up :)

insaint
April 7th, 2006
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[…] Change the font that your papers are written in, if it is allowed. Posted by doug in whatnot, doug | […]

I just wrote my undergraduate thesis in microbiology. With the advice if this page, I wrote the paper is all georgia. Got an A in the course (don’t know the exact mark of the paper). Thanks!

Mike Jones
May 28th, 2006
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Times is a time-tested typeface with a lot of history to back it up

But it’s used totally out of context in the wordprocessing era. Times (and then, TNR) was created for short columns at small weights. It doesn’t scale well to the width of a letter/A4 page. You’d be surprised at how well something like Century Schoolbook works on the page if you’re looking to create an aura of authority. (Georgia has some of its characteristics.) For my doctoral thesis? Adobe Caslon. You really can’t go wrong with a good Caslon, as long as you’re sensitive to line height.

nick s
June 1st, 2006
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Great reading! My experience with my students is that they choose Sans because they lack information about serif-fonts and how to use them (spacing, linespacing etc.) Choosing Georgia and Comic Sans shows a desire to get character in designing reading material but for an old-school typograph Georgia is like an loud-speaking young man who knows all (but lacks experience and therefore credibility and Comic Sans, well, is for comics.

Times was originally designed 100 years ago, for printing in lead-presses on cheap, bulky paper (newspapers), and taking into design that on paper it smudged a little and fattened so the original design of the font was narrower, and the letters on paper took in wetness and thickened.
After changes in technology, through typesetting machines to digital redesign of font-technology, also due to changing printing technology and better quality in industry-papers, I think Times has never been a good choice. Because of it’s origin: it was ment to thicken on the paper and therefore the character of Times is stale. It doesn’t have a strong character like Garamond or Baskerville.

My personal favorite this last decade is Melior for reading material, both on paper and screen, but it is always important when choosing a font, to take into account: fontface (x-height taking into account)+line-length+leading.

Old school typograph
June 1st, 2006
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Serious (aspiring) writers have known this for a while…for short poems it doesn’t matter, but for anything with paragraphs, no sans-serif fonts. Times Roman is supposedly the best because it’s the simplest, but now, I may try Georgia out sometime…

Oh, and I like Palatino Linotype too.

Avrila
June 3rd, 2006
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I used to subscribe to “Rock & Ice”, not exactly an academic publication. When they started to use sans-serif to be cool be cool, I cancelled my subsription after a couple
of months.

Ole Bjørsvik
August 3rd, 2006
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[…] It seems I’m very late to find this, but it’s appropriate since I’m going to university in October: Phil Renaud discovers that using different fonts can affect your scores in essays, in an informative but sadly inconclusive study. Apparently, the font “Georgia” gets you the best marks. […]

strawbee » Ch Ch Ch Changes
August 19th, 2006
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I leave it as an excercise for the reader to write “The Medium is the Mesage” 100 times in your Word Processor and apply a different font to each line. Thanks for the statistics. I’ll definately try Georgia if I need to impress someone. Silly me, I’ve been using Adobe Caslon just because I like it and its x-height.

Someone please let me know when Georgia achieves oversaturation and we need to move on .

Carol M
August 23rd, 2006
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[…] Die Anregung mal etwas anderes zu versuchen kam, man glaubt es kaum, ein Blog für Webdesigntrends. Zusammenfassung des Artikels: Times New Roman ist im akademischen Einsatz besser als die durschnittliche Groteske (Schrift ohne Serife), und gute Serifschriften sind besser als die alte Times New Roman. […]

[…] I continued the font-discussion-search and came across another article/post about the influence of fonts: “…be mindful of your target audience when you’re marking up a document, whether it’s a university essay or a commercial website. You never know just how loudly a font speaks.” [secret lives of fonts] […]

My essays have to be 10-12 point Times New Roman or Ariel. This makes it fairer for all students if what you hypothesize it correct. I like the idea though & found it when looking at the effect of handwriting on exam grades. It never occured to me that something similar may be at play when I typed an essay!

siaran
November 30th, 2006
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You’re right, this was true even back in secondary school for me. I’ve been using computers since I was two, so I guess I am more sensitive to it than my tutors were - I used this trick. And yes, awlays go for a serif’d font. I usually go for Centaur - it’s smaller, so I need to increase point size before I print, but it’s -just- different enough to seem to pop out at that poor teacher.

:) Spiffy post.

Raavea
January 1st, 2007
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[…] I also focused a lot on the typography and vertical rhythm of the site. Without a lot of trickery, fonts on the web are pretty limited. I decided to go with Arial. While at lower sizes, I don’t really care for Arial, but at larger sizes, it actually looks kinda nice (although not quite as nice as Helvetica… sigh). For some details, I’m using Georgia… a font that is superior to Times New Roman. […]

Redesign - Shifting Pixel
February 10th, 2007
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I prefer to use Hoefler Text on all my essays, and it gives me an A every time. That is, as long as I have a Mac to work with…

Junicode and Gentium are also very nice, though.

Josh Rickmar
March 21st, 2007
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[…] is a bit of a debate over which typefaces/fonts to use to influence people. After reading this blog post, I now favour Georgia over Times New Roman for both my essays and letters of application. […]

Nice observation. Your explanation sounds credible. But causality is not proven, I guess. It might be the other way around: You have chosen Georgia for your better papers, while Trebuchet MS has found its way into your less good works.

lu
May 20th, 2007
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[…] of letters on this site. What a huge difference it makes! Don’t just take my word. Look here, here, here, and here. The last one is a wonderful article about designing a résumé that you […]

[…] a related note, I would like to share a link: The Secret Lives of Fonts. A recommended read, especially for those still studying in collage :) Filed under: Information […]

its ironic that your article isnt written in georgia, lol, but great observation

smartass
August 14th, 2007
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[…] What else can I do to get good grades in school? Does the presentation style matter on a paper? Maybe this could shed some light on the subject. According to Phil Renaud over at Fadtastic, the font you use for a paper in school can make a […]

I always use Georgia and always have, and this just gives me more proof that Georgia is the best font that is out there.

Bob
August 29th, 2007
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[…] Conclusion? Use serif fonts like Georgia, Book Antiqua, Palatino Linotype, Perpetua and Garamond in your paperwork if you want to be taken “seriously,” and stay away from sans-serif fonts like Arial and Verdana and Trebuchet. However, if you’re coding websites and want text to look good and be easily readable on the screen (as opposed to in print) san-serif fonts are the way to go. LINK→ […]

hey. yeah. this makes alot of sense. im gonna take this into consideration and try it out. but um one question. snce im in community college, which font takes up the most space? could u email me?

jerome l.
September 21st, 2007
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This has quipped my curiosity. Georgia it is from now on.

Jx
December 5th, 2007
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[…] Does a paper’s font impact its final grade? January 10th, 2008 at 12:55 pm | Tags: asides, interesting […]

J’s Notes » What The Font?
January 10th, 2008
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[…] always been a fan of the san-serif font (Helvetica or Arial) set. So a recent study that says college professors are more likely to give a good grade to papers presented in serif […]

Interesting theory, but couldn’t it also be that you’re just becoming a better writer over time? It’s all of your recent papers that are getting better grades. Maybe you’re actually getting something out of your education!

Gigi
January 10th, 2008
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Before you jump to conclusions about typefaces, how about accounting for time trends in writing ability, course difficulty, or professor grading tendencies?

josh
January 10th, 2008
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Your findings bear out everything I learned over the course of 30 years in printing and publishing. Of course, back when I was in school, typewriters only offered Courier.

Sarah
January 10th, 2008
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<blockquote> What struck me about your article wasn’t the bit about fonts… it was the fact that a B- is bad grade in the U.S. — is that true? In Europe you’ll hardly ever get near a B unless you’re a genius — and don’t even think about getting an A.</blockquote>You’d be able to get an A in UL. They use the American system with GPA etc.. Proper Universities don’t though ;)

Dave
January 10th, 2008
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I’ve had a similar experience.  I switched from Times New Roman to Garamond Pro (with ligatures, etc) and changed the kerning on my papers a little bit.  My grades definitely went up.  The way I see it, really good typography can make a paper easier to physically read - your eyes have to do less work to keep on track.  If your paper is better typeset than the fifty others its in a stack with, even if the professor isn’t conscious of it, it’s a breath of fresh air, so to speak.  That subtle feeling of relief makes them likely to mark your paper higher.  It was always worth the three minutes, considering I’d usually spent two weeks writing the paper.

Jeff
January 11th, 2008
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[…] This blog post suggests your font choice may impact your grade. […]

[…] 10, 2008 · No Comments Phil Renaud’s clever, 52-paper-wide analysis of the typefaces he used for university essays and the grades he averaged with each. […]

[…] » The Secret Lives of Fonts » fadtastic - a multi-author web design trends journal What I’ve always suspected is now proven to be true: it DOES matter what font you use on papers (tags: fonts typography) Published by ichen January 11th, 2008 in General […]

What about the percentage of grades (A, B-) in each category (Times, Trebuche)? This can illustrate your point better than just an average. You could get even number of each grade in one category and still get an average of B or something.

amanda
January 11th, 2008
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When I launched openDemocracy in 2001 I researched fonts. Two had been developed, could it have been by Microsoft, but they were not propriatory, a serif and a sans for the screen. the serif was Georgia, which I immediately adopted for the pdf version and for all pamphlets etc. It has a thickness that ensures it works as a serif face on the screen. In all longish essays, papers, documents etc, it is always much easier to read a serif. Sans is really a display face. It can be better to read on screen, with the light coming ‘through’ it, unlike paper, especially in short articles and posts. I think the face created for the creeen was verdana? I am not at all surprised that fonts effect marks. Times Roman is a cliche, using Trebuchet or any sans serif looks trendy and ‘thoughtless’ and is harder to take in. Georgia has authority and readability

Anthony Barnett
January 11th, 2008
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From my experience as a designer, the final creation is usually judged for about 50% on content and 50% on presentation. This is pretty obvious when designing say a magazine. But most people don’t realize that this also holds true when writing a paper. The perception is probably something like 95% content and 5% presentation.You may think 50% is a lot for a paper, but it isn’t. That is because a lot of the presentation is actually part of the writing itself: things like spelling, writing style and how you’ve organized your content. Much of the rest is layout: choice of type, size, line spacing etc. These are the things that improve readability, but also the first impression a reader gets when he first picks your paper. But other factors also play a role. For example the choice of paper. Almost everybody uses standard printer paper. I quickly discovered that I could easily improve my scores on about anything I presented, simply by selecting a heavier paper that also had a nice tactile feel to it. The devil is in the details.

Patrik
January 11th, 2008
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[…] Renaud at Fadtastic has been doing the […]

This is all very interesting. A couple thoughts come to mind though…First, I wonder if your frame of mind, attention to your work, is reflected in your choice of fonts. In other words, did you choose your font based on factors that also affected your writing quality? It might be that your writing and font choice are a result of something else.Second, it’s common for web designers to say, "serif for print text, but sans for web text." However, I just used Firebug to change this page font to Georgia with line-height:160% and it reads much better. (You just got an A!)

bill weaver
January 11th, 2008
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Font are the essence of any design or advertisement. When studying graphic designs the font is a major factor in the completion of any piece of work. The purpose of the variety of fonts is to capture a certain image.

coolartist
January 11th, 2008
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Old post, but very interesting and entertaining. Valid theory, I’m going to test it out next semester. Thanks.

jollydiscovery
January 12th, 2008
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[…] 11 January 2008 by writingtechnologies Phil Renaud writes The Secret Lives of Fonts. […]

Overlooked: Georgia is a screen font.  It’s easier to read whilst writing the work, ergo one writes better when using it.

FFFish
January 12th, 2008
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[…] The Secret Lives of Fonts On fadtastic. Does your selection of typeface for academic essays affect your grade? (tags: typography psychology education design) […]

[…] enterprising fellow at Fadtastic did the research, and discovered Georgia-fonted papers tend to get A grades, Times Roman-fonted papers get A- […]

[…] enterprising fellow at Fadtastic did the research, and discovered Georgia-fonted papers tend to get A grades, Times Roman-fonted papers get A- […]

[…] » The Secret Lives of Fonts » fadtastic - a multi-author web design trends journal (tags: typography fonts writing) […]

links for 2008-01-12 « toonz
January 13th, 2008
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[…] the choice of a font really lead to better grades in school? It appears there may be something to the notion. I didn’t go into this hoping to try and make […]

Being in the Graphic Industry and after reading a book or 2 on Type faces…There is integrity in Font usage alone.I do not doubt my own depth of content when i choose a font…But…think of the ease of reading for the Reader.San Serif fonts are mathematiclly easier to calculate on the eye.I personally use Trecuchet….you can always BOLD, underline….Choose appropriate size, and don’t forget white space!

Bill K. Toronto
January 14th, 2008
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[…] a couple of days later I came across a blog posting called The Secret Lives of Fonts, in which the author reviewed 52 papers he wrote for university courses and found that on average […]

As a 7th grade teacher, I’ve had papers turned in in all kinds of fonts (even with guidelines, 7th graders get a little inventive with their fonts).  Perhaps the varied nature helps my grading to be less affected by the font.I always used arial - I wonder how that would play in.  Of course, I didn’t write much during my undergraduate days as a chemical engineer, but I did write a lot for my master’s courses in education.

Chewie
January 16th, 2008
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[…] The Secret Lives of Fonts […]

Georgia » The Upward Way Press
January 16th, 2008
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Correlation /= causation

cyn
January 17th, 2008
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[…] [Read this article on Fadtastic.] […]

I’m a prof at a state university.  Whenever I see a sans-serif font, I assume that the author is trying to play for space:  sans-serif fonts take up more space, word for work, than serif.  So it’s the same as using a bigger font or expanding the margins.  Not a good impression.  

Jeff
January 17th, 2008
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For a similar reason we used to edit short text we would publish in Garamond so that it looks familiar like Times New Roman but different enough to seem like you put some extra effort into it.

Ed
January 21st, 2008
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I do think there are all sorts of subconscious variables that can go into a subjective grade, and fonts can be one of them. For instance, most scholarly books and journals in my field are not publishing in a sans serif font, which might make a sans serif font paper look all the more undergraduate. However, to really conduct this experiment properly, one would have to find a way to have the same teacher read precisely the same text in different fonts without realizing it. There are too many other variables, such as influence of in-class participation; performance of other students’ papers; teachers’ fatigue later in the semester; did the font allow more or fewer ideas. Personally, I always issue font requirements that students never bother following, leading to many docked grades.

PeterTerp
January 21st, 2008
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Funny because I was just thinking a similar thought about an hour ago before googling a "good font for academia". I was reading in a typography book (The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst) at the time I had the thought. It stated that the serifed font Baskerville was the "epitome of neoclassicism and eighteenth-century rationalism". I couldnt help but think about the 18th century art history class I had just completed last semester. We studied Neoclassicism and in fact were required to write many papers on the subject. Papers that I got a B+ on every single one. I thought the teacher was just being tough. But then it occured to me that perhaps she didnt like that I used Helvetica to write all my papers and that I would have gained a few more points if I would have used a font synonymous of the time period…perhaps she also knew the secret that Helvetica will lend you an entire extra page of a paper.

Mira Sol
January 24th, 2008
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[…] The secret lives of fonts (tags: typography fonts writing academic font school essays webdesign Web2.0 reference psychology homework interesting education design cool blog article) […]

A friend told me a whiile back that the chances of getting an A on the paper are increased if using Georgia Font size 11. I have done so each time a paper has not been specified as Times Roman (and even some times when it has) and those papers ALL recieved A’s.  The same efforts, and even more, have been put into other papers requiring Times Roman and have recieved A- and B grades. I truly believe this theory is valid, for whatever reason. It must be on an unconscious level.

Denise
January 28th, 2008
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[…] “The secret lives of fonts” sunt tratate extrem de original nişte teme care ţin mai mult de print, dar care […]

[…] some “fancy” font. In fact, avoid that like the plague: use a low-key serif font as per Phil Renaud’s findings (not that it is a shining example of empirical study, but it never hurts to be on the safe […]

This is actually proven to be true. Serifs are subconcscioully less phsycially stressful on the eye. The serifs act as little bridges from one letter to the other, and thus are easier to read so understandably better grades would stem from a relaxed reader. As far as Georgia vs. TNR, that’s a mystery to me.

Bayleaf
February 20th, 2008
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150 comments and no one notes the obvious? Even making the large assumption your work was truly independent of your font use, you probably got different grades because of random chance. You need to do some kind of basic statistic test to see whether there really is a difference. If you post your data, I can run a simple analysis of variance and see whether you seeing patterns where there are none.

Sam
February 28th, 2008
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Well, I think I am going to stick with arial because it makes my paper longer than Georgia, sorry Georgia!

jen
March 11th, 2008
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I’m going to try Georgia on an essay that’s due tomorrow and I’ll tell you how it went… my average grade is B+/A- with Times New Roman….. I’ll see if there’s a difference with tomorrow essay

Tyler
April 27th, 2008
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Hey All,               Will you please tell me the web font are you using is search engine friendly?.If not why we looking for these sort of font faces to make web pages.

Web Developer India
April 30th, 2008
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Haha I had heard that fonts made a difference in papers, and just to see if anyone agreed I made a google search. I’m not surprised you found a difference. Georgia it is.

Kimberly
May 8th, 2008
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wow this post is amazingly interesting. I was in the middle of the night writting an essay… and I instatntly changed my font to Georgia and with your help I’m waiting for that A ! :D great blog 

shinhee
May 12th, 2008
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[…] “fonts of essays” and unexpectedly found a great blog written by Phil Renaud (click here). He statistically proved that fonts do matter long story short, out of 52 total essays he wrote […]

This about as groundbreaking as saying that how you dress for an interview or cover letter affects how likely you are to get the job. It’s no secret that good presentation is critical to impressing someone (and getting a good grade, or outcome).  I would imagine that justifying text (versus the sloppy left-align), using invisible tables to distinguish block quotes, or any number of other "good style" tricks will also improve grades all else being equal. Ever since I got some fonts that published books were laid out in (Electra, for example), I’ve never gotten another A-.

HM
May 27th, 2008
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the idea is good, but the problem is that your choice of fonts almost certainly is correlated with your skill since you used different fonts in different periods of your life. So you’re essentially comitting omitted variable bias here and need to control for year in school or essay number blank out of number of essays. ideally you would have randomly assigned a font to each essay it’d be actually an easy statistical test to perform. if you have data I’d be glad to run the model for you. 

yph
June 14th, 2008
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I am so with you on Georgia! Times New Roman appears plain spindly to me, and despite not being anything like a microsoft fan, Georgia is rounder, softer and more inviting. When I showed it to a friend who works in an office and who had been typing everything in TNR, she declared Georgia "friendly" and was ddelighted when I showed her how to change it to make it her default.

Leah
October 9th, 2008
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What a useful peace of research. I wonder if anyone has looked into this over a really large sample of academic essays to see if your results hold up or is it limited to the institution and lectures who teach you.I am sure this would be of interest to researchers in human nature.

Trevor Collins
February 3rd, 2009
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[…] Und jetzt Verdana. Eine Schrift, die für Text auf Röhrenmonitoren entwickelt wurde, nicht für Papier. Die praktisch jeder auf seinem Computer vorfindet, die auf zig Websites verwendet wird (wo sie ja auch hingehört). Eine Katastrophe! Nicht nur für Typo-Nerds, die auf 30 Meter den Unterschied zwischen Arial und Helvetica erkennen können. Denn unterbewusst verbindet jeder mit dem Aussehen von Schriften bestimmte Bilder, Werte, Ideen. Zum Beispiel geben Professoren ihren Studenten bessere Noten, wenn die Schriftart der Hausarbeit nach Forschungsjournal aussieht. […]

I work as university assistant and I always got the impression that unconciously I take papers written in TeX much more seriously - though not intentiously of course. I wonder whether it is the whole style produced by TeX which gives a much more professional impression or whether it is more about the font… I’ll try to compare my impression of TeX and Georgia/Garamond-documents…

hsf
August 28th, 2009
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i put this font on my cock and a woman sucked me off so well and my juice came out like a waterfall - thanks brad! (or whatever your name is) - seriously though im going to submit an essay in 5 minutes, i just turned to georgia and i better get an A even though im a leprous monkey.el nino de edinburgh

ataturk
November 6th, 2009
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Thanks for that!! Hope that works for me too :)

M.G
December 15th, 2009
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It looks like I’m going the right thing.

vesti srbija
March 15th, 2010
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As you can see from the pingbacks, I’ve referred to your blog a couple of times on my IT course for history students at the University of Helsinki. Just to encourage them to try other fonts than Times New Roman. Thanks! :)

Tapio Nurminen
March 27th, 2010
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