Digital Marketing

Technical writing: how to use fonts correctly in a whitepaper

As a technical writer, you need to know some basics about fonts and some ground rules to observe in your documents. The most basic distinction about fonts is whether they have a “serif” or not. That’s why font families fall into two main categories: Serif and Non-Serif fonts.

A serif is a small tail or wedge-shaped appendage that extends outward from the end of a letter or symbol. “Times Roman”, for example, is a famous serif font and “Arial” is an equally famous non-serif font.

RECOMMENDED RULES font selection for technical writers:

1) Select your headlines from NON-SERIF fonts (such as Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Tahoma, Futura, Optima) and your body text from SERIF fonts (such as Roman, Times Roman, Times New Roman, Georgia, Bookman).

2) ITALIC is designed to draw attention to itself because it is difficult to read. So in a block of readable text, it makes sense to emphasize a word or phrase by printing it in italics.

However, some authors print full web pages or print pages in italics. That defies the whole purpose of the italic style. Whenever you use italic font, keep in mind that you are making your words more difficult to read. Therefore, use it in moderation, such as using pepper while cooking.

3) Do not use more than two or a MAXIMUM of three typefaces in your technical documents. A profusion of typefaces creates confusion in the mind of the reader. When it comes to fonts, less is always more.

4) Don’t assume that every computer has access to every font you have. All computers, however, come with a set of built-in “system fonts” which are automatically installed by the operating system. The most famous of these system fonts are Arial, Times Roman, and Courier. By using these three fonts, you can be sure that your document will appear at the receiving end in the same fonts that you used on your machine.

However, if you use a fancy, hard-to-get font, the reader’s machine will substitute the “nearest available font” to make your document readable. “Optima”, for example, can be replaced with “Arial” and sometimes these substitutions change the way a page is composed, usually for the worse.

So, to be safe, stick to basic “system fonts” by designing a document that you hope will be distributed and read online.

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