RE. Readability studies on fonts--serif and sans serif

Subject: RE. Readability studies on fonts--serif and sans serif
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2000 14:40:06 -0500

Beth Scudder is <<...trying to determine what font is best for Web
publishing in terms of readability. I'm pretty sure that the various studies
I've read on this from time to time indicated that sans serif fonts were
found to be more readable.>>

That's a myth. All else being equal, sans serif is easier to read on a
low-resolution display (such as the typical 72 dpi monitor), but the problem
is that "all else" is never equal, and you should distrust any studies that
claim otherwise: what about the effects of such factors as leading, line
width, typeface design, word spacing, contrast with background, kerning,
type size, antialiasing, etc. etc.? So many other factors influence
legibility that a generalisation such as choosing sans serif is meaningless
and misleading. If you want the gory details, have a look at Karen
Schriver's summary of typographic issues in "Dynamics in Document Design"
(Wiley, 1997).

More to the point (in this specific context), if you're planning to do Web
publishing, it's very rare that you should ever set the font; one of the
great blessings of the Web is that users get to choose the fonts that they
prefer (they can do this in their browser settings), and you should take
this flexibility away from them only after careful consideration of what
advantages you're giving them in return. Usually, there's no advantage. (If
using a specific typeface is really important, then you should be using PDF
anyway. And if it's a logo, then you should use a graphic to preserve the
design... but then legibility is less of an issue than fidelity to the

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Hofstadter's Law: The time and effort required to complete a project are
always more than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's

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