When I was an adult literacy teacher, I wrote a lot of materials for my students. There was such a sadly small array of readers for adult students. Rather than have them read children’s books, I started writing stories using lists of sight words: 100 words, 150 words, 300 words, 350 words, 600 words. The 100 word list was the most challenging for me as a writer, of course — there just aren’t enough words to say anything! — but those stories were almost instantly readable for my students. They didn’t have to struggle over the words and could read for meaning, could read for the story and enjoy themselves. That was a huge score for me. I was so happy to have found a way to create material for them that was really for them, for grownups, not just revamped kid stuff.
My choice of font for printing the stories turned out to be as important a decision as what to write. Typefaces are annoying. They are made, by and large, for us: people who read. That sounds foolish and obvious, I’m sure. But it’s true. There isn’t much room for people who are learning to read. For example, let’s look at Vladimir Script:
And then there’s Amienne:
We start to get a little more readable when we move on to one of my favorites, Bradley Hand:
In the end, my first stories were printed in — you guessed it — trusty old Comic Sans:
I was happy, but my students weren’t quite as happy as I was. It seems Comic Sans didn’t look “serious” enough. So I went back to the drawing board (or the drop-down menu, as the case actually was) and eventually settled on Rockwell:
But, despite my concerns, with Rockwell I hit pay dirt: students liked it. And they didn’t struggle with the “a” as much as I had feared they would.
During the whole font selection process, I assumed I was pretty much alone in my obsession about the right type. I have since learned that no, many, many people obsess about fonts. And then today I saw an excellent essay (yes, I’m a couple of years behind the times on this one) all about your friend and mine, Comic Sans. If you aren’t a fan of cussing and inappropriate behavior, I’d suggest you steer clear, or at least be prepared. I found it hilarious: I’m Comic Sans, A*******.
It’s a long time since I was writing those stories for new readers, but both Comic Sans and Rockwell still have a soft place in my heart. I hardly use either font these days. In my personal writing, I’m a devotee of Perpetua. At work, I swing back and forth from Times New Roman to Calibri to Gill Sans MT and back again, leaving my Berlin Sans FB days behind. When I’m trying to be fancy, I’ll sometimes dip into a little Tempus Sans, maybe the occasional Monotype Corsiva, Kristen ITC, or Lucida Handwriting. On grant proposals, I bow to the pressure of page limits and go Arial Narrow all the way. What font are you?
See the rest of today’s slices at Two Writing Teachers.