Just as how your word choices can affect whether you're clearly understood by the reader of your message, the font you use is also important. The way your letters and words appear on screen or paper can make it easy for you and others to read what you write and can affect conscious and subconscious variables such as seriousness, playfulness, formality, imaginativeness, responsibility, etcetera.
A font is a stylistically coordinated set of letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. Any given program on your computer or digital device may give you the option of using dozens of different fonts, though many people use only one, the default font that shows up initially. On the other hand, some people go overboard and use too many fonts or choose the wrong ones.
The most basic font distinctions are "serif" fonts, which have small designs at the ends of strokes within letters, and "sans serif" (without serif) fonts, which lack such designs. Sans serif fonts are starker and bolder and more commonly used for titles and headlines, while serif fonts can aid legibility and more commonly are used for the body of works.
People typically choose among the fonts their computer programs or operating systems install for them, and these days they typically come with enough for the needs of all but professional designers. Desktop and laptop personal computers typically give you the most latitude with fonts, smartphones the least.
If you're not satisfied with the fonts available to you, you can obtain additional ones online. Tens of thousands are available. Some cost, while others are free, including 1,001 free fonts at www.1001freefonts.com.
Choosing which font makes the most sense for any given work is much like choosing what clothes to wear to work, a formal party, an informal gathering of friends, or a workout at the gym. A study some years ago by researchers at the Software Research Laboratory of Wichita State University shed light on this. The researchers analyzed 20 of the more common fonts by asking more than 500 people their views about the images the fonts projected. Some of the results included:
Kristen - flexibility (but, to some, instability and rebelliousness)
Impact - assertiveness, rudeness, and unattractiveness
Georgia - practicality, passiveness
Courier New - conformation, unimaginativeness, and dullness
Though the Wichita State study looked at only 20 fonts, reading its results at psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/81/PersonalityofFonts.asp can give you a good feel for why type talks.
Whatever you do, don't overdo fonts. Some rules you should follow are
- Use at most three different fonts per page.
- Minimize the use of varying font sizes and styles, such as italic, bold, and underline. Too much variety can be jarring to the eye.
- Also avoid long stretches of text in italic, bold, or uppercase, which can be more difficult to read than regular upright type.
- Make sure there's enough contrast between the letters and their background, whether in print or online. Black on white is easier to read than white on black, and both are easier to read than green on blue. The most legible combination is black on cream.