English 518 Course Blog

February 10, 2007

Seeing and Writing: Serif vs. Sans Serif

Filed under: Uncategorized — shenra @ 4:25 pm

Yet again, there exists many parallels between this class and the Bibliography and Methods of Citation class on Thursday night.  We just discussed the difference between Serif and Sans Serif, which seems to be part of the topic J. David Bolter discussed in his article “Seeing and Writing.”  In his first paragraph, he states that readers find very little difference between typefaces, but as we discussed Thursday night, there are differences that I would like to share with the class.

 Serif and Sans Serif differ in that former has extensions on the letters that are not necessary (look at the “d” in differ, for example) while the latter has only the lines needed to make the letter.  Thus, Times New Roman is a Serif typeface, while Arial is a Sans Serif typeface.  While the Arial is more streamlined(note the difference between the title of this post and the text), according to Dr. O’Shea, the Serif typeface actually allows readers to read faster, and to store more of the information in their brains.  The reason is that while a reader skims, he/she looks for markers and patterns in words, rather than actually viewing each letter in progression.  Serif letters are more easily recognizable, which allows readers to more quickly assimilate information.  Based on this, I would say that just because a computer allows us to create new typefaces, doesn’t mean we should.  Readability should be a prime factor in the creation of a new typeface, so streamlining or coming up with something cool-looking might actually be a detriment to readers.  Especially today, where everyone is pressed for time, the ability to read quickly and retain as much as possible should be the primary goal.

Update: After viewing this post, I realized that while typing it is displayed in Times New Roman, but it posts in Arial, so my example above will only work if you type it out yourself on your word processor, or look at your own posts when you type them!



  1. Interesting connection here. I tend to prefer relatively traditional fonts (my personal blog is sans-serif, probably Arial), while I require my students to compose in Times New Roman for similar reasons. I’m a little surprised that Bolter would make such a claim given his attention to textual issues.

    Comment by chutry — February 10, 2007 @ 10:43 pm | Reply

  2. When reading something, I personly prefer Times New Roman to other fonts, for when I see the words, some other fonts make my eyes uncomfortable and sometimes some of them make me feel dizzy. I have been curious about this before. Now after reading shenra’s post, I get the answer. That’s the readability of the fonts. I agree with shenra that differnt fonts do make difference for reading and readability is the primary issue when editing the text. Some decorations may be necessary sometimes, but they could not be exaggeratedly used.

    Comment by sophiesun — February 13, 2007 @ 5:18 am | Reply

  3. I agree, I’m sure those fancy typefaces on the computer are tempting but that doesn’t mean we should use them. As writers, we must always think about our readers. No one wants to read anything that looks good on paper but is hard to understand, because the font hurts their eyes. It was interesting to learn that certain font letters helps our brain assimilate information more quickly. Personally, I’d much rather read something I can process and retain quickly then be stuck decoding something I can hardly understand.

    Comment by natb07 — February 13, 2007 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

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