Re: Fonts for Online documents

Subject: Re: Fonts for Online documents
From: Steven Jong <SteveJong -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 19 Jun 1996 15:37:36 -0400

The answer to the question of serif versus sans-serif fonts for online
documents is actually technology driven. On paper, using printing technology,
serif fonts are measurably more legible, because in tests people can read
serif fonts more quickly and with fewer errors. This advantage has been
grasped since before the Middle Ages (hey, would you carve serifs on your
granite monuments if you didn't have to?). The theory is that the serifs help
the eye recognize the shape of letters more quickly and accurately.

On display screens, studies have shown the opposite -- that sans-serif fonts
are more quickly and accurately read. Why? Because with their lower
resolution, display screens don't show serifs very well. That is understood
by companies that have studied the problem; I know Digital Equipment studied
it, and I'm pretty sure I recall reading that Microsoft did extensive

Before you run with that information, however, I should point out that two
technological developments may be changing the balance back toward serif
fonts online. The first is the steadily increasing resolution of display
devices; the second is the invention of antialiased or "fuzzy" fonts, which
trick the eye into seeing details finer than the screen can actually display.
Antialiased serif fonts may well be as readable as san-serif fonts online. I
don't know. (I looked at my copy of Horton, which didn't address the

I use Arial (urk) for my online HELP; I would suggest that is a safe, if
boring, choice.

-- Steve

Steven Jong, Documentation Group Leader ("Typo? What tpyo?")
Lightbridge, Inc, 281 Winter St., Waltham, MA 02154 USA
<jong -at- lightbridge -dot- com>, 617.672.4902 [voice], 617.890.2681 [FAX]

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