A Font of Information (SOLSC 19)

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:

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:

Bradley Hand

In the end, my first stories were printed in — you guessed it — trusty old Comic Sans:

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.



14 thoughts on “A Font of Information (SOLSC 19)

  1. Ah, McSweeney’s! LOVE that rant so much. But Comic Sans? Not for me! I have friends that purposely use comic sans on documents to me just to see me get all in a snit about it. 😉 I have a bad font addiction, and love hunting down new free fonts in all sorts of preposterous styles. I have a thing for funky typewriter fonts, Zapfino, and anything bold, looping, and scrolling. It depends on the project I’m working on, much like you — but I do like the look of Helvetica! 😀


  2. I have to use Comic Sans for anything printed for my children at school because it is one of the few fonts with a regular lower case ‘a’. I seem to always print my poetry in Papyrus but when my head is just talking on paper – I’m chalkduster or something like it.
    I love that you wrote material for your students. That is really an awesome thing to do and what a great discussion to have about how font matters. I don’t like to admit that it does, but its a fact.


    1. That regular lower case “a” is so important, right? The font question came up again recently for me when I took the comics class and we talked about the style for the text in the comic. In the end I went with my own handwriting because that’s easiest for me and it’s old school, which appeals to me. If I decide to buy photoshop, however, I might play around with some other options as the comic develops …


  3. I love Comic Sans, but mostly for headlines, subheds, not regular text. I hate Helvetica. A publication I used to proofread used Helvetica Light, maybe even Helvetica Condensed, just to be able to fit more words into the space allotted. Very hard to read. Generally I don’t like sans serif at all, although I use Verdana for my e-mail — it’s easy to read without feeling airless. My favorite font used to be Palatino, delicate and elegant. Also Garamond, also delicate and elegant, and even smaller than Palatino.


    1. I’m a lover of sans serif, but I like serif fonts, too. Thanks for the reminder about Garamond. That was my font before I discovered Perpetua. And I definitely agree with your of them as “delicate and elegant” … nice.


  4. Oh, I am such a font nerd, some years ago I bought a font just so I could use it all the time and think of it as my signature font. (Here it is.)

    And the sight words stories are a GREAT idea. Really, really great. Makes me wish I were still working in adult literacy so I could encourage all my tutors to do this. 🙂


    1. Okay, I love that you are this into fonts! Love it!

      The sight word stories were such a great exercise for me. It was wonderful to be able to offer my students reading material that didn’t make them feel infantilized.


  5. Not going to lie, I was on the Comic Sans and Papyrus band wagon for years when i was creating greeting cards, News letters etc. Like so many font snobs I know, I became sick of seeing them.

    Because my natural print was/still horrendous, I always used small caps for clarity. Copperplate Gothic Light (Italics) was my “signature” font as it was a font that used small caps by default. I was forced to break out manually and digitally of it when I started working with computers. I am Calibri or Tahoma in emails, but switch to Times New Roman because the whole “is that an I or an l or a 1” depending on the sans serif used is annoying when comes to case sensitive codes.


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