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5 fonts that add credibility and professionalism to scientific research

 

Choosing the right fonts can affect how your scientific research is received.

Note: This is part 2 of a 2-part blog series about choices in fonts. You can read part 1 here.

You are dressed in your best. You edited the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb…but are your figures and images wearing flip-flops?

Last time we talked about fonts that suck professionalism out of your scientific research. In this article, we’ll talk about fonts that actually add credibility and professionalism to your research. Dress your research in a custom-tailored suit by just using these fonts!

My friend and colleague, Cassio Lynm described how a good figure should be like a billboard found in many highways around the country. Anyone who sees the billboard will understand what they are advertising in a split second. If someone is confused or gets the wrong idea, the image is not very successful.

Similarly, the best professional fonts should be one that’s easy to read with very little “bells and whistles”. When writing prose of informational value such as scientific research, a reader should pay attention to what the text is describing, not how the text looks.  A good professional font should be like air–we don’t really even pay attention to it most of the time.

Some of the fonts I’ll share with you today are considered “boring” and “overused” by some. These fonts are everywhere because they are champions of legibility and simplicity.  Make your work professional and trustworthy by using a time-tested font.

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1. Arial- “All-Around Champion with IBM Roots”

good font for scientific research arial

According to fonts.com, Arial is one of the most used typefaces of the last 30 years. Its electronic origins go back to 1982 for IBM laser-xerographic printers by designers Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders. When it came out, it was supposed to compete with Helvetica, which was one of the core fonts in Apple Computers in the mid 1980’s.

Arial letters have more round shapes and the edges of letters do not end in a horizontal line. Instead, the edges are at an angle.

Arial is an easy-to-read font in small and large blocks of text. Nature requests that the figure text be in Arial or Helvetica. It’s especially nice for figure labels and legends. When using Arial as figure legends, keep the font size small ~8 points for best results.

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2. Helvetica- “All-Around Champion with Apple Roots”

Helvetica is the most heavily-used font. Helvetica was originally designed by a Swiss designer named Max Miedinger in 1957. The font was designed to be an easy-to-read font. The name “Helvetica” comes from “Helvetia” – Latin name for Switzerland. Actually, the font received a facelift in 1983-the newer version is called, you guessed it, Neue Helvetica.

Helvetica even has its own movie. I haven’t seen it yet, but please comment in the section below if you have.

Besides its Hollywood (Indie) status, Helvetica is a font that looks great on both print and on screen.  Nature , Science, and Cell request that their figure labels be in Helvetica. (If you need assistance setting up figures, I’m here to help). It looks great small as in figure labels, and it looks pretty good in large formats as posters. I lost count of how many figures I labeled using Helvetica, since that’s what one of the publishers used for their books.

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3. Baskerville- “Tends to have positive influence on readers”

Baskerville’s history goes all the way back to 1757 when John Baskerville designed a typeface that works well in print and easy to read.  Mr. Baskerville preferred his letters simple and refined. He was also a writing master, so he had some ornamental letters like the upper case Q.

There was an informal study (not official, but some experiments here and there) that showed using Baskerville font increased trustworthiness of the text compared to other fonts. In the same study, Comic Sans had the most negative influence on the readers.

Baskerville is a serif font, which means that there are “tails” at the edge of the letters. Generally, serif fonts are better suited for print. This font works best when used in long blocks of text. Try to keep this font between 8 and 14pts for best results. This font looks dignified, so use this for your important professional occasions-award ceremonies, recognitions, etc.

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4. Caslon- “When in doubt, use Caslon”

Caslon is another font with a long history. William Cason I designed the typeface back in the early 1700’s. This font is considered as the first original typeface from England. This font was very popular in colonial America, and it was used for many historical documents including the US Declaration of Independence.

Caslon is a serif font (with tails), and is best used in blocks of text. Like Baskerville, try to keep this font between 8 and 14 points for best results. Using this in a report or an application would be a good places.

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5. Garamond – “Second best font after Helvetica”

This font’s history also goes way back. The font was designed by Claude Garamond (or Jean Jannon), who was commissioned to make a typeface for King Francis I of France (1515-47) to be used in series of books. The modern, electric version was revived in 1989 by Robert Slimbach.

Because there are different sources available for Garamond, there are numbers of different variations of the font. Adobe Garamond is the most popular and widely-available version today.

Garamond is still used extensively by French publishers. They also insist that Garamond be printed in size 9.  Some of the most famous publications in France are in Garamond such as Histoire de l’édition français.  The publishers prefer this font “for its beauty, its richness and its legibility” combined with “an uncluttered graphic style that underscores the rigour of essays and analysis providing a radical critique of contemporary society”.

Garamond is a great font to be used in long proses such as textbooks, dissertations and theses. Keeping it at 9 point is optional. In fact, my master’s thesis was in Garamond.

So that’s the 5 fonts that add credibility and professionalism to your scientific research. Did you find your favorite fonts here? Do you have other favorites? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. Also, please feel free to send this article along to those who might benefit from this short article.

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NEXT STEP:

Now that you know about great scientific fonts, learn more about: PowerPoint Tips for the Scientist

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Sources and Further reading:

Arial vs Helvetica – fonts.com

Research on font trustworthiness: Baskerville vs. Comic Sans

Caslon typeface

History of Garamond

Cell Press Figure Guide

Nature -Guide to preparing final artwork

Science Magazine: Preparing your manuscript

14 Comments

  • Ewa
    Posted 04/10/2014 9:09 pm 0Likes

    I’d rather like to know which font was used to write that article – it’s simple and readable, better than all presented above.

    • Li
      Posted 02/11/2016 6:05 am 0Likes

      And the font being used for that article is Helvetica, which is one of the fonts mentioned above 😀

  • ikumikayama
    Posted 05/05/2014 1:59 pm 0Likes

    Hi Ewa! Great point. The font used is called “Open Sans” by Steve Matteson. For my blog, I made the font color dark grey to make it easier on the eyes, and also made them slightly bigger than average for easier reading. Hope this helps!

  • Abraham
    Posted 05/09/2015 7:22 pm 0Likes

    Hollo there, i liked the article but none of this fonts looks like the one used in the papers i read, (Journals of the American Chemical Society), do you know which one they use?

    • ikumikayama
      Posted 05/21/2015 10:28 pm 0Likes

      Hi There! Thank you for the note! ACS suggests Arial and Helvetica for their journal figures, so that’s what I introduced in this article–for the text, they might very well have their own custom font they use for their publications. I’ll dig into this a little deeper–thank you again!

  • Martin Silvertant
    Posted 07/15/2015 12:06 am 0Likes

    I’m sorry, but this article is full of misinformation. Part 1 is a reiteration of articles that have been around for years. Absolutely nothing new there, and honestly, is there anyone even considering the typefaces you name there for scientific articles? Is it conceivable that anyone would use Curlz for his essay?

    But my real concern goes to the second part. Arial and Helvetica are absolutely not scientific typefaces. The notion that ACS suggests these typefaces doesn’t make them suitable for scientific works. I think you ought to do research as to WHY these typefaces came recommended. Helvetica has history, as it won out of contemporaries like Univers as Helvetica was very heavily marketed. As a side note, Helvetica is actually based on the Akzidenz Grotesk model. Arial was designed to have the same metrics as Helvetica so it could be used on the same printers without having to pay a license fee to use Helvetica. Arial is more legible while Helvetica is more neutral and clear, but neither is particularly great.

    So I would say Helvetica and Arial haven’t been chosen because they’re perfect. They’ve been chosen because they’re popular, and Arial is on every Windows computer, so people don’t have to purchase any fonts. I would say neither Arial and Helvetica are known to be particularly good to read. I suspect typefaces like Proxima Nova and Avenir will fair better. To be clear, I don’t think Arial or Helvetica are bad choices for labels and such, but to suggest them as top 5 typefaces, that’s very clearly misinformation.

    “When using Arial as figure legends, keep the font size small ~8 points for best results.”
    For best results? Not entirely. It’s probably a good estimate, but in actuality the pt size should depend on the layout. I would recommend always making a test print to see if the text looks good in print, if that’s what it is intended for. Sometimes 0.2pts more or less could make the difference.

    “Helvetica is the most heavily-used font.”
    I don’t think so. First off, Helvetica is not a font. It’s a typeface. Helvetica Regular would be a font. Helvetica is the most heavily-used typeface in graphic design, and likely the most heavily-used sans typeface. It’s not the most heavily-used typeface. At least, I would be very surprised if it was. I suspect Times New Roman is the most heavily-used.

    “The font was designed to be an easy-to-read font.”
    No, Helvetica was designed to steal the popularity of Akzidenz Grotesk away.

    Also, follow this link to see some of the problems of Helvetica at small sizes, and what professionals in the field have to say about it: http://spiekermann.com/en/helvetica-sucks/

    “Actually, the font received a facelift in 1983-the newer version is called, you guessed it, Neue Helvetica.”
    Who would guess that the prefix for the new Helvetica would be German though? Small detail…
    Anyway, if you like Helvetica but want a more professional typeface (because really, Max Miedinger was not a type designer and as far as I’m concerned that shows), I can recommend Neue Haas Grotesk (a typeface that is true to the original Helvetica, but improved) or Neue Haas Unica (a more fresh looking Helvetica that deviates from the original).

    “Helvetica even has its own movie. I haven’t seen it yet, but please comment in the section below if you have.”
    I have seen it a few times now. It’s quite a pleasure to watch, but there’s a lot of propaganda involved as well. You have the likes of Massimo Vignelli drooling over how great Helvetica is. The man was a pretty great graphic designer (although insisting on always using Helvetica has little to do with graphic design, as one ought to select the perfect typeface for the job, not use one typeface for every job), but he had no insight in type design. On the other hand, you have Erik Spiekermann formulate perfectly what Helvetica stands for. I would say for a type designer the Helvetica documentary is quite pleasant to watch. For the layman I’m afraid the documentary amounts to propaganda. It gives the layman the feeling this is one of the best typefaces out there and it’s simply not, by far.

    “Besides its Hollywood (Indie) status, Helvetica is a font that looks great on both print and on screen.”
    Absolutely not! On Windows computers, websites set in Helvetica tend to look horrendous. The problem is that Helvetica is not well hinted, and so rendering problems occur. Helvetica was obviously not designed for monitors. Neue Helvetica doesn’t have the rendering problem to the same extent I believe, but relatively few people have Neue Helvetica, so it wouldn’t be wise to use that on your website, unless you embed the fonts. For websites I highly recommend using Arial rather than Helvetica.

    “Baskerville’s history goes all the way back to 1757 when John Baskerville designed a typeface that works well in print and easy to read.”
    Easy to read? Not particularly, though it’s not bad either. Baskerville is a transitional typeface, meaning the weight modulation is vertical and the contrast is high. This is the tradition of the Baroque, but it’s not the most pleasant to read. However, Baskerville does look quite academic. For typefaces that are more pleasant to read, I would look at the Garalde style. Garamond and Caslon belong to that classification. They have a diagonal weight modulation, which naturally leads the eyes to the next letters. Typefaces with vertical weight modulation and high contrast tend to feature a fence effect, which disturbs the reading experience. To see this effect well, look at Didone typefaces like Didot and Bodoni.

    “This font works best when used in long blocks of text. Try to keep this font between 8 and 14pts for best results.”
    14pt seems quite large. Try 9–12pt. This goes for any serif typeface to be used for body text that is intended for print (for the web try 10–14pt, also depending on which device it’s intended for). But again, it will depend on the layout, and always make test prints to make sure it’s pleasant to read.

    “Garamond is a great font to be used in long proses such as textbooks, dissertations and theses. Keeping it at 9 point is optional. In fact, my master’s thesis was in Garamond.”
    I distinctly remember years ago I noticed my Harry Potter book was set in Garamond. Both Garamond and Caslon are still used extensively for books.

    However, Garamond may be a bit much for scientific documents. It’s quite classical and it has a low x-height, which these days is not preferable. Caslon is a bit less expressive and has a taller x-height. I would say Caslon is probably better for scientific articles.

    One group of typefaces that certainly seems to be missing here is Century. Typefaces like Century Roman and Century Schoolbook. They belong to the Clarendon classification and are reminiscent of typefaces like Baskerville. These typefaces have been popular since the late 19th century and are still used extensively in academic literature. But I suppose you should also make a consideration of whether your article should be about the most comfortable typefaces to read, or the best suitable for scientific work, because they most certainly don’t amount to the same thing, yet you seem to be equating the two in this article.

    • ikumikayama
      Posted 07/18/2015 12:03 pm 0Likes

      Hi Martin! Thank you so much for your in-depth note! I have to look over and digest all your excellent points. Would you be open to expanding your writing and be a guest author or send me a link to your website/blog so the readers can have more information about what types to use for their work?

  • Joylene
    Posted 08/14/2015 12:32 am 0Likes

    THE quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog!!!!!

  • Elias
    Posted 05/15/2016 2:46 pm 0Likes

    Leelawadee is a bit underrated. It is easy on the eyes, and simple. It could use a bit of a TimesNewRoman-punch to it, though.

  • Kiana
    Posted 04/06/2017 2:12 pm 0Likes

    Where can I download Helvetica from? I couldn’t find it anywhere

  • Charlie Stricklen
    Posted 10/24/2017 4:40 am 0Likes

    Seriously? I don’t know what this smug guy does with typography, in which he seems to be well versed, but if he were to take up writing he would need to work on his grammar.

  • Michael Phan
    Posted 12/30/2017 10:02 am 0Likes

    I’m not an expert on fonts, but I’m currently using Helvetica for headlines and other Sans text in my thesis and DejaVu for the main text. Feels pretty scientific to me 🙂

  • Michael Beshai
    Posted 01/13/2018 10:14 pm 0Likes

    I enjoyed the historical aspect of this article. Thanks! PS. I see you use a sans serif font.

  • Best Tech
    Posted 05/12/2020 1:57 am 0Likes

    How i download these font types?

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