Re: Fonts for online documentation

Subject: Re: Fonts for online documentation
From: Judyth Mermelstein <Judyth_Mermelstein -at- BABYLON -dot- MONTREAL -dot- QC -dot- CA>
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 1997 06:43:31 GMT

Susan W. Gallagher,sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM,Internet writes:
At 01:29 PM 2/21/97 -0500, Susan Brown wrote:
> Have there been any studies done about the preferred font(s) for
>online documentation? (i.e. proportional, serifed, etc.) Do you have any
>strong feelings/preferences??????

You didn't mention the platform or delivery mechanism, so I'll be general.

Convention is sans serif proportional.

Microsoft says that MS Sans displays best because it was specifically
designed for online use. I notice very little difference, tho, between
MS Sans and Ariel. MS Sans is the norm for Windows. Apple uses a more
thik-thin sans -- Geneva or New York??? -- sorry, I forget which. UNIX
GUIs generally use a serif font, I suppose because UNIX people believe
their high resolution monitors can handle it. I've never been particularly

The Macintosh sans-serif standard font is Geneva (a bitmap modelled on
Helvetica but less distorted at 72 dpi. New York is the serif equivalent,
based on Times.

Generally, whatever Microsoft may say, body text of any length should be in a
font with serifs, and sans fonts should be reserved to headings. Although it
might seem counter-intuitive, fonts with serifs are actually less fatiguing
to read for longer text. (I.e., not just the odd paragraph.)

The resolution issue is probably the trickiest part. Ideally, you want to use
fonts which work well on low-res screens as well as better ones--unless, of
course, the software in question will only be used on high-end equipment.
Apple developed Geneva, Chicago, New York, Monaco, etc. with their 72 dpi
machines specifically so people wouldn't go blind working on them or with
dot-matrix printouts at the same resolution. (There was no equivalent
development for DOS machines because we were all working on those lousy
large-dot green or orange things at the time.)

Judyth Mermelstein,
judyth_mermelstein -at- babylon -dot- montreal -dot- qc -dot- ca

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