RE: SUMMARY: Readability studies on fonts--serif and sans serif

Subject: RE: SUMMARY: Readability studies on fonts--serif and sans serif
From: "Giordano, Connie" <Connie -dot- Giordano -at- FMR -dot- COM>
To: "'Scudder, Beth'" <beth_scudder -at- retek -dot- com>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2000 10:54:45 -0500


Very nice summary, here's a couple of additional points to ponder:

1) Several software companies, among them Microsoft, are beta testing
applications that embed the font into the web page, so it appears as
designed no matter what font is chosen by the user. When such software is
readily available (probably some time this year), you'll be back to some of
the same questions in designing your web pages.

1a) How many users really take the time or have the knowledge to change
their browser settings for their own preferences? I have no quantifiable
statistics, but even here in a software development company, very few people
bother with it, they don't want to take the time, but will take the time to
remark on particularly illegible sites.

2) I have only anecdotal evidence to support it, but numerous 40+ folks I
have worked with prefer sans serif typefaces such as Arial for text in
printed documentation as well. I would keep in mind with the graying of
America, you may find much of your audience with less than perfect vision,
and legibility in print is a concern.

4) We have 3 writers period. I couldn't get funding for an editor, DTP
specialist, or trainer, much less a typographer. I suspect lots of lone
rangers would face the same problem. If typographical design is a large
issue, contract it out to someone with the expertise.

All in all an excellent discussion that provided lots of great information
and resources. Glad you asked the question.

Connie Giordano

-----Original Message-----
From: Scudder, Beth


I recently asked for help locating studies on font readability, specifically
focusing on serif vs. sans serif fonts, that I could reference in
determining what font to use for some Web publishing my department's doing.
I got responses from about eight people, which can be summarized as follows:

(1) The user's Web browser preferences will determine the type of font, so
don't worry about font types. Just tag it appropriately (heading, body,
etc.) and the browser will sort it out. Use PDFs or graphics to maintain
specific typefaces if that's necessary.

(2) Racial memory or urban legend or common wisdom seem to think that serif
fonts are better for readability in printed documentation, and sans serif
fonts are better for readability in on-line documentation. (There's a
preference that serif fonts be larger than sans serif, on-screen.)


(4) Typography is an art and requires special training. Add a typographer to
your documentation team.


(6) Is readability really what you want, or legibility? Various definitions
of readability and legibility followed:
a. Readability refers to how easy it is to read a lot of text, and
that serif fonts are more readable for print and lengthy web pages;
legibility refers to how easy it is to recognize short bursts of text, such
as headlines, signs, buttons, etc, and says that in print and on screen,
sans serif fonts are more legible.
b. Readability is more about comprehension than it is about typeface
design; legibility is more about the distinctiveness of individual


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