[no subject]

I have to agree with Jean on this one. I am very nearsighted (>-20 diopters
correction). At work, I have a gorgeous Sony 20" monitor for my PC, which
helps greatly. But I also have to use an X-terminal, which has a 17" monitor.
There doesn't appear to be any way of increasing the size of the mouse
cursor, as there is on PCs under the variants of Windows, which makes it
extremely difficult for me to use the UNIX applications on the X-terminal.
It's harder to find a small, moving mouse cursor on the screen than it is to
deal with tiny type.

At home, I use a 14" monitor. A while back, I upgraded my copy of Microsoft
Money from Version 2 to Version 4. Much to my surprise and dismay, I found
that there was no way to increase the size of the font in the ledger window.
To add insult to injury, the designers of the software had reduced the size
of the window by adding a pretty decorative frame which can't be turned off.
I ended up going back to version 2, which uses a larger ledger window.

Another related issue is colour choice. For people who are visually impaired,
the ability to customize colours can make a big difference in the usability
of a program.

As for printed documents, I'd avoid anything less than 10 point unless
absolutely necessary. If you have to go to a smaller font, try to pick one
with a large X-height.


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I'm sure other people will make this point to the list.

I'm pretty near sighted.

Nine or ten point type usually requires that I take my glasses off, close the
bad eye and press my face against the thing I need to read.

I hope this helps.

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Jill Burgchardt asked for advice on type size. Jill,
there's been lots of research on this issue, but there is
no single answer you can apply because there are so many
variables to consider. Instead of trying for a single
optimal size, I suggest that you consider the following
factors in choosing the type size required (in order of

- your audience: many older readers have a difficult time
reading text smaller than 10 point, and find the 12 point
size easier to read. What size is the audience familiar and
comfortable with?

- your typeface: all fonts differ (some dramatically) in
perceived size at a nominal point size. Perhaps pick
another font that is smaller at the same nominal point
size? Perhaps pick a font such as Times that is optimized
for packing text legibly into a small space?

- your leading (line spacing): The larger the font, the
larger the line spacing typically. Reducing both font size
and line spacing slightly might help more than just
dropping to 10 point type.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

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Why not give them a break from the small stuff?

12 point does seem big to me, too, so I usually use 11 point. Unless the font
tends to run big, I wouldn't go lower than 10 point. If I get tempted to go
lower, I remember one of my clients who has to put his nose 2 inches from a
20 inch monitor with big fonts in order to read it. This is with corrected

Our job is, ultimately, making things understandable and saving people a lot
of nuisance time trying to figure things out. It's not about whether we
"waste" a lot of space - if we make someone's life easier, it's not wasted.

Barb Philbrick

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Jill Burgchardt:

The seminal textbook on this subject is Miles A Tinker's _Legibility of
Print_ 1963 Ames: Iowa State University Press.

While the research that Tinker reports shows that the reader can accommodate
a variety of type sizes in various line lengths, and he gives details, the
accepted wisdom today is the there should not be more than 65-70 characters in a
line. This view conforms with a number of printers' rules-of-thumb on this

There was no indication in the snippet I saw as to the page size you are
working with.

Perhaps the first question to answer is how many characters will there be in
the line (alphabet+numerals+SPACES).

Alternatively, having selected a typeface, how long is a line with 65-70

The characteristics of the typeface also influence the decision. Faces with
large x-heights need at least one point leading, maybe two points. Certainly, if
the typeface looks robust on the page, two points will be necessary.

If you are concerned about paper economy, why not two column presentation ?
In this case the 65-70 characters can often be achieve with 8.5 to 10.5 point

One reply to your message mentioned Palatino. The visual size impression of
this face, at 10 or 10.5 size would need Times to be 12 point to have the same
visual size impression.

Another factor to take into account is how your documentation in being
reproduced: photocopying requires a moderately robust typeface with large open
counters as xerography tends to weaken thin strokes and thicken thick ore bold
strokes. Using Bembo for example would be a sub-optimal choice for photocopies
on basic grade photocopy paper.

If you documents are reports, two column presentation can achieve real space
gains, of the order of 30 percent, and scientists are certainly used to reading
this type presentation. I format an annual directory of research projects in two
columns, A4, in 9.5 pt Times, printed on calendared paper, and this would be
very acceptable to an reader of _Scientific American_ for example.

Two column presentation give additional flexibility over table and figure
sizes, and again can represent a considerable space gain.

You might like to look at a paper I wrote some times ago that covers some of
these points.Here is my standard reply to requests for copies:


The paper is not now available in printed form.

It has been prepared as an Acrobat file (136 kB) and may be downloaded from


Inevitably there has been some reduction in quality over the original
printed version, particularly in some of the figures where the original material
is not in my possession and has had to be scanned for inclusion.

Copies of the Acrobat reader may be obtained free from you local distributor
of Adobe products.

I acknowledge assistance from Tony Smith, Publishing Solutions Ltd,
Wellington in generating the Acrobat file, and from Owen Watson and Jaap
Jasperse, SIR Publishing, Royal Society of New Zealand for scanning and web site

I am happy to respond to any questions about the content.

Lindsay J Rollo lrollo -at- actrix -dot- gen -dot- nz
Wellington, New Zealand

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Given the same font, I'd choose 12 points over 10 any day. However,
readability also depends on the font. I just did a manual in 10 point
Stone, and I was very pleased with the readability. Bookman, too, is
very readable. Probably, there are others.

Things to look for when choosing a font to use at small sizes? I'd

1.) x-height (the height of the letter "x" or any other letter without
ascenders or descenders)

2.) letter width (often overlooked, but very important; condensed
typfaces at 10 point probably aren't going to work).

3.) color (how dark the body of the text looks on the page; many fonts
at small sizes look very pale. That's one reason why Aldus was designed
to accompany Palatino, which is very washed out--as well as
indistinct--at smaller sizes).

4.) weight: thin strokes can be lost; thick ones can make the letters
blur together at small sizes.

5.) font category:with some serifs and many sans serifs, the letters
tend to blur together. Serifs might work better in many cases. A font
like Optima, which has qualities of both serifs and SS might be a good
choice for a small size, too.

Bruce Byfield (bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com)
Technical Writer

Thanks again to all of you!
Jill Burgchardt

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