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5 fonts that suck professionalism out of your scientific research

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

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

Preparing scientific research for presentation or publication is a lot of work. There are edits after edits, updating new data, writing cover letters to journals, and preparing a speech or a presentation showcasing your work.  Unfortunately there is another aspect to your research that you cannot overlook: Figures and graphs.

Today, I’m going to share with you the 5 fonts to avoid when making figures, powerpoint slides, and posters. Some of them are very popular on the internet, and some are really “cute”.  All these fonts have a specific use, and it’s fine to use them in the ways that they were meant to be. However, these are not very professional and serious.

A lot of the fonts I’m going to show you are very nice fonts for other purposes–but they were not made to make your work look serious and trustworthy.

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5. Impact

Impact is a very nice font to create, you guessed it, impact on your design. It’s thick, the spacing between the letters (kerning) is tight, and the lower case letters are pretty tall for a high x-height.  This font works great for short yet concise phrases.

That’s why it’s used extensively in…

fonts not to use in scientific presentation - impact

So, if you’re putting together some web comics, it’s fine to use Impact.

Don’t use it for professional things like instructions on post-surgery exercises:

 

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4. Papyrus

Papyrus is another popular font to avoid. The letters have a textured edge, suggesting that they were written on papyrus, a precursor to modern-day paper. The designer, Chris Costello, said he wanted to describe how the alphabet would have looked in ancient Egyptian times. Papyrus is used to create a rustic, hand-written feel from the olden days.

This font is great for something that is rustic and old: like a church brochure or for an old craft like weaving and spinning.  James Cameron used it for his blockbuster movie Avatar.

If the objective is to create a modern cutting-edge feel, papyrus is not recommended:

I don’t know why, but I want everything to look brown when using Papyrus. Is it just me?

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3. Curlz

Curlz is a typeface that is very whimsical and playful. The ends of the letters have distinct curls. The letters are very decorative, and I keep thinking about pink poodles when I see the typeface. So I looked in my photo collection but didn’t find any poodles. Instead I found this:

This typeface creates a weird awkwardness when used with a more serious image, like a skull. Now it has a Tim Burton feel. If he were a scientist, he might use this font.

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2. Zapfino

When Zapfino came out in 1998, it was a big deal for the typesetters and graphic designers. Depending on the letter combination, some letters will look different to create more eye-pleasing, balanced look. It has a really complicated set of automatic substitutions of letters to make the script flow very naturally. Zapfino is also famous for the ligatures-where two or more letters join together.  One example of ligatures are in some texts where the “a” and the “e” are joined together such as in orthopaedics or encyclopaedia.

 

While looking very calligraphy-esque and elegant, Zapfino has become too popular and overused. More importantly, it looks so pretty that it becomes hard to read. Most fonts are designed to be read easily and quickly, but Zapfino is not one of them. When sharing scientific research, some decoration is good, but too much decoration becomes distracting.

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1. Comic Sans

Finally, we come to Comic Sans. This font has an army of graphic designers determined to ban the use of this typeface. So why is it so loved and hated at the same time?

Some people love this font because it looks casual and friendly. If you were invited to a party where the invitation cards used comic sans, you’d probably go. Little kids would be so excited. Maybe there’ll be a clown at the party! There are people who use this font for everything including emergency evacuation instructions and reminders to turn off the lights when not in use.

 

Most people hate it because it’s too casual and unprofessional. Studies have shown that comic sans is very hard to read when used in text. If a student turns in their term paper in comic sans, they probably won’t get a good grade. The letters look a little bit wonky and childish.

In conclusion:

I hope this short article helped you see how “unprofessional” some fonts can look when misused. I believe that the science worth sharing is worth remembering, and avoiding these 5 fonts will help you to look more professional. My next post is going to be on fonts that add professionalism to your work. Stay tuned!

PS: Now that you know which fonts not to use, are you ready to learn about the design mistakes that ruin a PowerPoint presentation?

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