Font Wars!

Oct 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Yeah, it's been discussed before, but in light of October NIH deadlines, let's reopen this highly volatile subject. What font is most likely to get you that fundable priority score? With a little help from the Samuel L Jackson Lorem Ipsum ("SLIpsum") placeholder text generator, we're going to compare a few side by side.

The classic, of course, is 11 pt Arial. Here's what it looks like. Personally, I HATE Arial. I find it incredibly unpleasant to read--the letters all look too much like each other, and my brain just sees a wall of uniformity. If I'm reading this, I probably start glazing over the fastest.

Next up, Physioprof's favorite: Georgia.

As you can see, Georgia is serifed and therefore easier to read. It has the added bonus of gaining you a few extra lines over Arial (hence the extra space at the bottom), so I can see where PP's coming from. But to me it's a little squishy and clunky.

My new favorite, which I discovered when I read a friend's recent proposal that scored ALL 1's, is Palatino Linotype. Take a look!

How freaking gorgeous is that? Easy to read, good spaces between the lines, is it any wonder she got all 1s? Now, the one drawback to all that beauty is that you do sacrifice a significant number of lines--something like 4 or 5 per page, which can add up. But you know what? Figure it out! There is almost always a way to say something more concisely than you have, and your reviewers will love you for it.

And I mean really, isn't that the whole point?


37 responses so far

  • Fred says:

    IMO, Arial = better at sub/superscripting vs. Palatino Linotype and Georgia.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    So, I've consistently used Arial. That said, I tried this experiment myself, after the Twitter conversation last night. My class notes for my lecture today are in Palotino Linotype...and it's totes Drbecca's fault! 🙂

  • I used to use Arial but a few years ago someone turned me onto Georgia. But a favorite of mine is still Tahoma, if you need to eat up space.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    Typeface choice isn't as important as size, leading, and editing in getting the desired effect.

  • Fred says:

    I'm summonsing Master Physioprof ... I FRUCKING RITE MY GRANTS IN WINGDINGS

  • Fred says:

    forgot the !11111!!!!1!1!1!1!!!!!!!!!

  • chall says:

    I like Helvetica and Garamond.... if I'm not using Georgia (which seems more to be -higher and not as chubby... like Century Schoolbook, that I'd never use in grantwriting but is nice for 'other stuff'. ) . I definetly use a serif one though.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I am still amazed anyone other than PhysioProf gives a shit about fonts for grant apps and manuscript submissions.

    • Zen Faulkes says:

      I recommend giving a shit as far as making sure that you are following the instructions for the journal / funding agency. Some DO specify what fonts they want.

      Figures in journals are the main place were not following instructions will end up in you having to redo the figures.

      But if there is no specification, then I agree that there are better things to worry about in a manuscript or grant proposal.

  • If you like Palatino, try Aldus. Zapf originally intended the two as a display/body font pair, but Palatino was such an instant hit that poor Aldus never went anywhere. It's a more angular, less calligraphic, type.

  • bam294 says:

    It is pretty, and pretty counts! I have been adhocing for 4 study sections and wall to wall text just is confusing and desperate. I really never even bothered to do anything but Ariel - just not something I thought would make a difference, but looks SO much better. What do I owe you - 10% salary support?

  • Namnezia says:

    The NIH has specific guidelines as to which fonts are acceptable, I think Palatino is not one of them. Palatino was also designed to be read on screen (from what I understand) and not optimized for printed type. Not sure where PDFs read onscreen fall, I'd say they count a print. I like Georgia, but... I have never successfully had a proposal funded which was written in Georgia, so for me, that font is cursed. I have however had success with Arial or Helvetica. For manuscripts I almost always use Times New Roman. Boring, I know.

    My favorite font in general is Bodoni, BTW.

    • Namnezia says:

      One thing I see in your text is that the spacing between paragraphs is too close. You should adjust your word processor to add an extra half line between paragraphs. Then you can get rid of that ugly indent. Your text will also look better if you turn hyphenation ON, and you'll reclaim some of the lost space that way.

    • Dr Becca says:

      Ahem. From the SF424 Guide: "Use an Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, or Georgia typeface, a black font color, and a font size of 11 points or larger."

    • iGrrrl says:

      Palatino Linotype is one of the four fonts allowed at NIH, but it's only called Palatino on a Mac. I find it interesting that you've not succeeded with Georgia. Did you do as physioprof said below, and use Arial for the figure legends? Not only does it provide contrast, but the sans serif fonts are more readable down to 8 or 9 pt.

      In the book publishing world, manuscripts generally must be in Times New Roman, 12 pt, double spaced.

  • TheGrinch says:

    What, no one uses good old Times New Roman anymore?

    • iGrrrl says:

      There are only four allowed fonts for NIH applications, and Times New Roman isn't one of them. (Ariel, Helvetica, Georgia, and Palatino Linotype, not smaller than 11 pt.) You can use Times New Roman for NSF, USDA, and ED.

  • iGrrrl says:

    Readability is the only thing worth worrying about, and the serif fonts don't shrink as legibly for figure legends, IME.

    Alex Poole is the 3rd Google hit for "font readability study", and his update is here:

    And I did the experiment for words per page in the 4 allowed NIH fonts. At 11 point font with 1" margins, 4 paragraphs per page using indentation rather than blank lines, and turning on automatic hyphenation:
    Arial: 849 words
    Helvetica: 819 words
    Georgia: 853 words
    Palatino: 891

    Why yes, I am a bit of a wonk about this stuff.

  • physioprof says:

    I use Georgia for my body text and Arial for my figure legends (which are allowed to be smaller, with no specified limit!). The contrast helps the reader. Palatino has too big a difference between the thin strokes and the thick strokes, and this reading it feels like being stabbed in the eye.

  • DJMH says:

    What you need here is an experiment. Hands up everyone who is putting in a grant this month. I just put in a K in Georgia, so if we all report back in 5 months...

  • Joat-mon says:

    I am a new investigator and I got my first R01 funded the first pass at 12%ile. This is what I used: Georgia body text (14 point headings, 12 point subheadings, 11 point for everything else with healthy usage of bold) and Arial figure legend (9 point). I think the organization and hierarchy of the grant is very important. Georgia was designed to be read with ease. Bold also stands out more from the rest than Arial. Arial just put me to sleep — it is very monotonic. Is everyone happy with how Word processes and renders the figures/images? I think it does a terrible job!

    • Kierra says:

      It depends on how much you are expecting Word to do with your figures. If you are inserting figure panels as separate images and doing the figure layout and labels in Word, that just leads to head-exploding. But as long as you are doing the layout/labeling stuff in another program (I use Prism or Photoshop) and just inserting complete figures into Word, it should handle that just fine.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I have been fucking up by using serif fonts on figure legends in my apps. Also, I have received both fundable scores and triages with Arial and Georgia. Perhaps I should try Palamino Lolipop next to mix things up.

  • Joat-mon says:

    Arial is much better for figure legends for sure. I found Palamino Lolipop very difficult to read. It is too ornate; the structural details make my head spins.

  • ecologist says:

    LaTeX. Computer Modern. Text processing designed for science.

  • Susan says:

    iGrrl quotes the highest # of words / page with palatino, but Becca's text above has fewer (look for the 'Teletubbies' in the last paragraph ). Whatsupwithat?

    My recently funded app was with Aerial. I prefer its uniformity, actually.

    • IGrrrl says:

      I think that's the difference between Palatino and Palatino Linotype (Mac Word 2008 only has Palatino. The line spacing seems to be a bit more narrow for Palatino.

      I was surprised at the results I found, too, because I had always thought Palatino Linotype gave fewer words per page, and dr becca's example clearly shows fewer. The thing about words per page is that more words does not equal more information, if the reviewers don't actually read them. What was that tweet of DrugMonkey's? "Wall to wall text is the shortest path to triage."

  • Susan says:

    *Arial. Autocorrect FTW.

  • OgreMkV says:

    I don't do grants, so I don't have those restrictions, but my company (a publisher) uses Verdana almost exclusively.

    I've gotten used to it. Verdana is larger and very readable.

  • Dr. Cynicism says:

    WHY U NO LIKE ARIAL?! It's so uniform and perfect. But you may have persuaded me to use Palatino Linotype -- it's so inviting!

  • Boehninglab says:

    I have written every grant and manuscript in Arial for well over a decade. The superstitious side of me would never permit a font change unless mandated by the funding agency/journal.

  • dunerat says:

    Curiously, the Arial sample is the most readable of the three you presented. i say "curiously" because you're arguing against using Arial, but presented two less-readable examples to try to back up your argument.

  • Bob says:

    I'm working on a SBIR proposal now, going from Ariel 11 to Palatino Linotype bumped me from 7 pages to 8.5 pages.

    Out of the five acceptable NIH formats, whichever takes up the least space is what should be used as far as I'm concerned. I understand concise is a virtue, but regardless, maximizing utilization of all six pages will make any proposal more competitive.

    Sounds like Helvetica is the best bet in that regard by far according to Igrrrl's comment on line usage, unfortunately, M$ doesn't license that font for word, so you need to buy it =/

    How strict is NIH on using a knockoff free version of Helvetica I wonder.

  • […] I have often said, there is lots of argument about how your proposal should work. (see here and here and here, but remember rules have changed since some of these things were written). Certainly, do […]

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