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Using Fonts with Purpose


This handout addresses how to make appropriate font choices to add additional meaning and emphasis to print documents and web pages

Contributors:Mark Pepper, Nick Hurm, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2011-05-03 04:40:39

Does Type Font Matter?

It is easy to think that type font doesn’t matter. We read text all the time and have become very accustomed to focusing on the content or message of the words themselves and not what the words look like visually. In reality, the visual appearance of words themselves can (and should) have just as much effect on how a document is received as the content itself. Fonts can create mood and atmosphere. Fonts can give visual clues about the order a document should be read in and which parts are more important than others. Fonts can even be used to control how long it takes someone to read a document.

The professional printing industry has recognized this fact for a long time. Since the 1500s, they have used text called a “Lorem Ipsum” to demonstrate what a font will look like without having the reader become distracted by the meaning of the text itself. Although the term resembles ancient Latin, it is not actually intended to have meaning.

This image says Lorem Ipsum.  The font is a serif font - times new roman.  This is a classic looking font.

Image Caption: Times New Roman

Above is a font that is probably quite familiar to you - Times New Roman. Especially in academic circles, Times New Roman is so popular that you almost have to use a Lorem Ipsum to actually see the curves and spacing characteristics of the font itself.

This image shows the font Arial. It is a sans serif font.

Image Caption: Arial

Here is another popular font called Arial. Looking at the Times New Roman and Arial fonts together it’s possible to see some subtle differences. Perhaps the choice to use Times versus Arial won’t make the most drastic of differences; however, there are so many different fonts to choose from that the point becomes much clearer once we move beyond more traditional choices.

This image shows a font called Chalkboard. It resembles text written on a chalkboard in a classroom.

Image Caption: Chalkboard

Above is a lesser known font called Chalkboard. This font is so different that it shouldn’t be hard to realize that a page full of text in Chalkboard would look and feel very different from the more traditional Times or Arial.

Understanding how type fonts work involves learning some new terminology and thinking about the cultural codes behind words themselves. However, once you do so, font choice becomes another highly effective way to fuse your documents with additional meaning and rhetorical effectiveness.

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