Size 10 Font in User Guides Acceptable for Body Text?

Subject: Size 10 Font in User Guides Acceptable for Body Text?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l List <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, "Ronquillo, Michael" <mronquillo -at- equitrac -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 07 Mar 2008 12:08:41 -0500

Michael Ronquillo wondered: <<Is a size 10 font in user guides
acceptable for body text? I was taught that anything below size 12 is
too small.>>

First off, the question isn't meaningful unless you specify the font.
Font size is not an absolute parameter; it is defined by the
characteristics of the font itself; it's commonly measured from the
top of the ascenders to the bottom of the descenders, and how a size
is perceived also interacts strongly with the x-height (the height of
the lower-case x in that font). Type 12-point Arial beside 12-point
Times New Roman and you'll see what I mean: radically different
perceived sizes. The Arial will appear heading-size to many readers,
whereas the Times may be comfortable or feel only slightly too large
for body text.

<<These guides are released to the public through online. I
personally think it's too small and hard on the eyes, but is it

For online information, which will be read primarily on the computer,
you should generally not be hard-coding your font sizes. Possibly the
greatest single advantage of online information is that it allows
people to choose a typeface and type size that work for their
specific eyes -- and fonts that work well for one person may be
anathema to another person. (My wife uses type that is about half the
size I can read comfortably. We've agreed to disagree over this. <g>)

For information that will be distributed online, but then printed and
read on paper, it's always better to err on the size of caution and
choose a slightly larger font. That's doubly true for an audience
that includes a large proportion of older readers. (Me, for instance.
<g>) There's no one perfect size for everyone, so you'll have to do a
bit of experimenting to find a size that works well for your
audience. If you can't talk to the real audience, choose a dozen
people in your company with ages ranging form recent graduates (early
20s) to older folks (50s and up) and ask them their opinions of the
readability of four or five type samples. For example, present the
same information at 10, 10.5, 11, 11.5, and 12 points and ask them to
choose both their preferred size and their comfort zone (range of
acceptable sizes).

When I've done this, I've always found that most of the older folks
preferred the larger type, but were willing to accept an intermediate
size, whereas the younger folks preferred smaller type, but were
again willing to accept an intermediate size. Some older folks will
prefer small type, some younger folks will prefer large type, but on
the whole, you'll find a "sweet spot" in the middle where both sets
of preferences overlap. For an investment of half an hour of your
time, you'll end up with a good first estimate of an appropriate type

-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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Size 10 Font in User Guides Acceptable for Body Text?: From: Ronquillo, Michael

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