Choosing a font is something that most of us give little thought to. After all, most fonts are more or less same, right? Let's face it, most writing is presented in a stock-standard font like Times New Roman or Arial.
Why is choice of font important? ------------------------------------ There are many differences between fonts: some obvious, some subtle. As well as setting mood of what we write, these differences can have significant effects on legibility.
In this article, we'll classify fonts in several different ways and compare effects that these have on legibility. Let's start by comparing serif and sans-serif fonts.
Serif versus sans-serif fonts ----------------------------- Start up a word processor and type a letter "h". Change it to a large size (say 72 points) and use Times New Roman as your font. Notice three small cross strokes at ends of strokes. These are called serif. Fonts that provide these are said to be serif fonts. Fonts that do not are sans-serif fonts. ("Sans" is French word for without.)
Now change font to Arial, Helvetica or Verdana. These are all sans-serif fonts. Notice that three small cross strokes have disappeared.
Serif fonts, all things being equal, are easier to read.
This is because serif makes individual letters more distinctive and thus easier for our brains to recognise quickly. Without serif, brain has to spend longer identifying a letter because its shape is less distinct.
An important proviso must be made, however. On low resolution of a computer screen, very small serif text (say 10 points or less) might actually be harder to read than corresponding sans serif because more complex shapes of serif characters cannot be accurately drawn in sizes this small.
Deciding whether to use a serif or sans serif font is still a personal choice, however, and no hard-and-fast rules apply. Even though serif fonts are usually easier to read, you might prefer a sans-serif font for a particular document if you feel that it sets an appropriate mood. Sans-serif fonts are often thought to look more modern.