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About Writing Right: The Blog


A writer recently asked what the best-looking typeface for books was. How would you have answered? Here's what I had to say.

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If what you mean by "for books" is to create a book for your personal use, use whatever font you like. The key in such a situation is to use something that's non-obtrusive so that the font doesn't slow down your writing by hampering your reading speed and, thus, your overall productivity.


If, on the other hand, what you mean by "for books" is actually to publish a book, numerous studies conducted over the eons have proven that serif fonts (such as Times New Roman, Courier, and Garamond among others) are easier, faster, and more enjoyable to read than are sans-serif fonts (such as Arial and others in all their iteration). And, since your goal in publishing a book is to entice readers to buy, read, and enjoy what you've written, why buck the odds? I picked up five books at random off the corner of my desk, and all five were produced with a serif typeface, most in 11 or 12 point Times New Roman, which size makes for easier reading than smaller or larger sized fonts.


Which brings up an interesting supposition bouncing around the world of graphic arts for decades. Courier, the long-time king of serif fonts, was for years the only font used universally by newspaper publishers for distribution to the masses. Thus, readers were raised on Courier, grew comfortable with reading Courier, and have made it and other similar serif fonts their favorites ever since. In this case, it seems that familiarity, rather than breeding contempt, breeds comfort.


Of course, as in most things in life, there's a contrary supposition that, since serif fonts are intrinsically easier to read than sans-serif fonts, early newspaper publishers adopted Courier as their number one go-to font in order to satisfy their readers' expectations. What came first, the chicken or the font?


Whichever may be the case, think of serif fonts as the GOP of font-face styles while sans-serif fonts are more like the upstart Democrat Party. For years, one was far more common and universally grounded than the other. Today, they both have their place in the publishing industry.


And you thought this question was beyond the reach of politics!


But, I digress. Let me return to your original question, which was what is the "best looking" typeface for books. And, that I cannot answer. Because best-looking typefaces to me aren't necessarily the same to you--or anybody else, for that matter. So, forget about looks and concentrate on function. That's the real purposes of typefaces, or, rather, fonts (which is what you really mean), in the first place.


And, while we're on the subject, the words "typeface" and "font" are often used interchangeably but incorrectly. A typeface is a set of specific design features inclusive in letters and other characters, such as the presence or lack of a serif, the letters' weight and balance, spacing, and the height difference between upper and lowercase letters. A font, on the other hand, is the variation in weight and size of a typeface. So when a typeface is Roman, bold, italic, condensed, or any other variable, it's called a font. And, while all fonts fit into the category of typefaces, not all typefaces fit all fonts. Got that? Good.


Now, let's go have a drink. And, after that, you can ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can also check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack. It's free, it's entertaining, it's informative, and it runs weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!) 

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