Information on Technical Communication

 Reader Analysis
 Formal Report
 Analytical Report
 Typography Hints
 Instruction Basics
 Memo Format
 Oral Report
 Progress Reports
 Letter of Application
 Simple HTML

Hints for Typography Choices

General Hints

The following list of information provides general guidelines for creating readable, visually and textually accessible documents.

  • Use appropriate fonts and type sizes. Twelve point type is most commonly used because it is fairly easy to read without taking up too much space, but context of use and reader appropriateness always should determine your choices. If your audience is more likely to have difficulty reading smaller type sizes, 14 or even 16 point type size may be more appropriate. Where the context requires a specific type size, 9 point, for instance, the technical communicator must choose 9 point type. Also, fonts have varying "X" heights; fonts such as Bookman or Schoolbook have large "X" heights and those such as Times have much smaller "X" heights. Times Roman font set in 14 point type, can actually be smaller and harder to read than New Century Schoolbook set in 10 point type. Effective technical communicators consider the total context in which their choices arise rather than making absolute decisions about font choice and type size.

    In addition, fonts carry connotative meaning, much like writing tone and style do. For instance, serif fonts are generally perceived as more conservative, and at times, more professional than san serif fonts. However, when a writing context calls for a more contemporary feel, san serif font is usually preferable. For relatively conservative work, a serif font like 12 point Palatino or Times Roman is appropriate, although you may use others if you deem them appropriate. A sans serif font like Monoco is considered contemporary in style so technical communicators might use this "updated" font for documents that will be read by a more "trendy" audience. But again, effective document developers let context drive all their choices.

  • Serif fonts are easier to read than sans serif fonts in hard copy format. Arguably, san serif is easier to read online.

  • Underlining obscures the descenders in text and should not be used. However, there are times when document developers have no choice but to use underlining, for instance, when it is required by an organization or supervisor requesting the document, when it required in form, for instance, by the APA Style Guide for citation format, or when designers have no other means available to highlight important information or headings.

  • To highlight important information you may bold it use lots of white space around it center it use a bigger type size to represent it

  • Using all upper case makes text difficult to read; therefore, effective communicators avoid it whenever possible and use it very sparingly when it's not possible to avoid it. Sometimes use of all uppercase may be the only way to highlight headings, however. For instance, ASCI text used in text-based Internet applications won't support text treatments such as bold or increased type sizes, so setting text in all caps may be the only way to highlight it. Even so, upper case should be used very sparingly in limited areas such as headings.

  • Use no more than two fonts in one document. Use of more than two fonts makes a document more difficult to access visually and can cause problems with text alignment.

  • Documents should be visually interesting. Readers are more likely to respond positively to a document that is designed with interesting elements such as bolding to highlight headings and use of different type sizes and text arrangement to emphasize important organizational elements of a document. The greatest additional benefit is that readers can more easily access information when documents are clearly visually defined.

  • Create highly textured documents that are attractively, and cleanly organized.

  • Use italics sparingly since text in italics is difficult to read in large amounts. This advice is applicable for script fonts as well. Both script and italics can be difficult to read and even if used sparingly in a string of no more than 4 or 5 words, effective technical communicators set italics or script in a relatively large type size.

  • Be consistent with categories of headings- e.g., if you've listed three heading titles in the Overview of your document, use those same heading titles in the document.

    Use specific language for headings to help guide readers through the document.

  • Make your intended hierarchy of headings clear and consistent. Larger categories of information should be headed by words represented in larger (and bolder) type. For instance, "Introduction" may be represented in bolded 14 point type, "Observations of Government Document Section" also in bolded 14 point type, and "Reference Materials" in bolded 12 point type (because it would be a sub-category of "Observations of . . .").

  • Be scrupulous with grammar, spelling, and mechanics.